CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper spent Friday and Saturday in Iowa on his first trip to the Hawkeye State since officially jumping into the 2020 presidential contest earlier in the week.

The two-term governor and former Denver mayor hit small towns, big cities and house parties during the two-day swing, meeting hundreds of Iowans eager to hear his story, how he solved problems in Colorado and how he would address what he calls the “crisis of division.”

Iowa will host the first-in-the-nation caucus on Feb. 3, just over 10 months from now.

Throughout the two days, he spoke about climate change, health care and workforce development, especially in the age of automation and robotics.

The nation needs a skills revolution, he said, so that people don’t go through what he went through after he lost his job as a geologist, although that led him, with no experience, to start up a brewpub when “no one knew what that was.”

Hickenlooper’s first stop Friday was in Des Moines at a brewery with about 150 Iowans, mostly young and white, in attendance, who said they’re looking for a candidate who runs a positive campaign and cares about the environment and climate change.

Others said they’re undecided and are waiting for the train of candidates to pass through the state before making a commitment. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also is in Iowa on a three-day swing this weekend.

In Des Moines, David Bade, his wife, Susan, and daughter, Emma, who all plan to caucus next year, said they came to see if Hickenlooper is the centrist they want, someone who could beat President Donald Trump.

“I don’t want Medicare for all; I don’t want free college,” David Bade said.

“I want a realm of reality: socially liberal and fiscally moderate.”

Hickenlooper sprinkled his life story with his brand of homespun humor, which had the audience often rapt with attention and laughing along with his jokes.

“I’m not the smartest guy out there,” he added. “But I do know about getting people together. It’s time to get people together and get stuff done.”

During a question-and-answer session in Des Moines, Cassie Rehling, a Palmer High School graduate from Colorado Springs attending nearby Drake University, said she worries that her skills won’t get her a job that pays a livable wage.

Her parents, still in Colorado Springs, are nearing the point where they can’t afford to live there anymore, she said.

Hickenlooper responded that he’s heard the concerns about affordable housing — it outstretches what people are paid, he said — and he suggested better compensation, raising the minimum wage and “building cheaper housing” by cutting through red tape and bureaucracy.

Hickenlooper and his advance team, which includes former state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio, traveled about 500 miles Saturday across Iowa, much of it in a torrential downpour.

From Des Moines they went to Charles City, Cedar Falls, home of the University of Northern Iowa, Dubuque, Clinton and ending the day at a brewpub in Cedar Rapids.

Charles City, population 7,200, was where Hickenlooper got his first question about how Colorado spends millions of marijuana tax dollars. Hickenlooper was quick to point out that he was no fan of legalizing recreational marijuana, but that voters had spoken.

“It’s no fun to be in conflict with the federal government” that still classifies marijuana as an illegal drug, he said, adding he favors reclassifying marijuana so that it is not classified as a Schedule 1 drug along with heroin and LSD. But he also said he’s told governors not to legalize pot just for the revenue.

Colorado has spent much of its marijuana tax revenue on enforcement of its regulations, some on schools and school buildings and the rest to combat drug abuse, he said.

The standing-room only event held at Iowa Title & Realty featured a message that was more rural-focused. He talked about how Colorado’s rural communities will all soon be connected to high-speed internet, and that Colorado’s rural economy will soon be among the strongest in the country.

Iowa Title owner Jim Davis said he represents the small business wing of the Democratic party, and that he appreciates Hickenlooper’s message of collaborative problem solving and willingness to work across the aisle. “He’s pragmatic,” Davis said, a term applied to the governor by several Iowans throughout the weekend.

While in Charles City, Hickenlooper received the endorsement of a fellow Coloradan, Chris Smith of Arvada, who was on his way back to Colorado from a job in northern Wisconsin and heard about the rally. “This man made Colorado better,” Smith told the crowd of about 50 people. “I’m an independent, and I will vote for him.”

Hickenlooper took some shots at Trump and the 2017 tax law that he said put $250 billion into the pockets of businesses and individuals outside the United States.

“The debt is not unlimited,” he said, adding the tax rate on the highest earners should be raised again from 37 percent to 39 percent. That 2 percent did not make a difference to the wealthy, he said.

“I’m not just a long shot and a dark horse,” Hickenlooper said. “I’m willing to give a year of my life” to make this happen.

Hickenlooper’s next stop was at a college bar in Cedar Falls before heading to Dubuque and Clinton and house parties, including meeting up with least 60 people at the home of Jack Wertzberger, whose 1916 Craftsman home featured photographs throughout the first floor featuring the Dubuque attorney with prominent Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a run for the White House.

The Dubuque event also drew Democrats from nearby Wisconsin, including Roy Waldren of Madison. “I’m a left-of-center guy,” he said.

“I like people who are genuine, that you can sit down in the living room and have a conversation with.”

Hickenlooper started off the Dubuque party by making a beeline for a nearby piano and playing a bit of boogie-woogie for a few moments, to the delight of the crowd. And despite repeating the same stories for two days, he was able to make those stories fresh for every group, and they reacted warmly throughout the events.

“It’s my chance to grow,” he told Colorado Politics at the end of Saturday night. Meeting people for the first time and talking with them about the issues “is the beauty of campaigning.”

Dubuque also was the first stop where Hickenlooper delved into immigration and the wall proposed by Trump.

“Borders matter but we don’t need a wall” to satisfy the president’s political vanity, he said. The nation needs immigrants who work on farms and in other businesses, he said, adding that Trump has sold farmers a bill of goods and that the tariff wars have ripped out the soul of the rural economy.

At a noisy brewpub in Cedar Rapids, Hickenlooper’s voice grew hoarse as he spoke to another 100 assembled for the last event of the day. Washington is full of dreamers with lots of plans, he said, “I’m a doer.”

And when he once again said he could beat Donald Trump, someone across the room shouted, “Make America Great Again!”

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