Hickenlooper: Romney ‘Still Somewhat of a Mystery’

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Shortly before he was set to speak in Charlotte on Wednesday night, I sat down with Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper. A rumored 2016 White House hopeful (though he demurs), Hickenlooper plans to emphasize bipartisan accomplishments in his state, with the message that “the bickering’s gotta come to an end” in Washington.

Hickenlooper predicted that the 2012 presidential vote in Colorado would be “very, very close,” adding that he expected President Obama to close the deal with undecideds on the basis of his personality and character. “People generally, in the end, vote on who they want to have a beer with,” he said, before arguing that Mitt Romney is flunking that test: “He is still somewhat of a mystery in terms of, Why is he doing this? What is his emotional core? What does he respond to viscerally? And what are his hobbies, his passions? Who is he as a person?” Colorado voters may like Romney, Hickenlooper said, “but they’re not as hooked to him as the President’s supporters are to the President.” That sounds plausible to me. I’ve heard Romney aides argue that even if voters wind up liking the Republican nominee less than Obama, the country’s economic malaise means that the share-a-beer test is less important than ever. Still, by my (admittedly subjective) count, the last candidate who was generally deemed less likable yet still won the presidency was Richard Nixon.

As for Obama, Hickenlooper praised his economic record, complimenting his Cabinet for working in unison to promote economic development. But he also fretted that the President “doesn’t speak the language. He’s not fluent in business. He says things that can be, I don’t know, misinterpreted” — a reference to Obama’s oft-repeated (and distorted) “You didn’t build it” remark.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, struck me as a policy wonk, someone who genuinely enjoys talking about transportation and energy policy. You can hear him for yourself when he speaks in the 8 p.m. hour (E.T.) on Wednesday.

Update: Hickenlooper’s camp sent over the following statement, to make clear he was not criticizing the President:

President Obama is fluent in creating a strong business climate. By cutting taxes for small businesses 18 times and investing in our workforce and infrastructure, he has created the foundation for a stronger middle class and economic growth. That’s in contrast to Mitt Romney, who would take us back to the same failed policies that crashed our economy and devastated the middle class in the first place.

To my ears, Hickenlooper wasn’t saying the President lacks understanding of business, only that Obama’s language sometimes gets him in trouble.