Weekly Standard: Who's Ready For Prime Time?

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Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper speaks as Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell looks on during the 2011 Governors Summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce June 20, 2011 in Washington, D.C. i i

hide captionGovernor of Colorado John Hickenlooper speaks as Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell looks on during the 2011 Governors Summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce June 20, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper speaks as Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell looks on during the 2011 Governors Summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce June 20, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper speaks as Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell looks on during the 2011 Governors Summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce June 20, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Mark Hemingway is a senior writer for The Weekly Standard.

Now that — perish the thought — it looks increasingly possible that President Obama might lose in November, it's only natural that speculation about Democratic possibilities for 2016 is starting to ramp up. Yes, there's the obvious caveat that the Democratic nomination is probably Hillary Clinton's for the taking should she want it. But it's worth asking: Who else is on the Democratic bench?

There are two names that keep popping up — Maryland governor Martin O'Malley and New York governor Andrew Cuomo. However, two recent crises suggest that both men lack the capability and character for higher office.

O'Malley is a likeable guy with an engaging public persona and... that's about it. Maryland is a fiscal basket case and O'Malley has a "tax-raising legacy" and the "governor would have to defend increases in White House run," according to his hometown paper. And then there's the small matter of PEPCO, Maryland's hated public utility that has repeatedly left thousands without power — a problem that reached new heights during the recent derecho storm that hit the East Coast. At the Atlantic, Gregg Easterbook summed up O'Malley's PEPCO problem:

Meanwhile Maryland's governor is Martin O'Malley, constantly mentioned — just ask him! — as the Democratic Party's hope for the White House in 2016. Yet in six years in office, O'Malley has done nothing to address his state's power-utility woes.

Four days after an unusually strong "derecho" thunderstorm struck the nation's capital area, Dominion Power, the utility for the Northern Virginia suburbs around Washington, D.C., had restored 67 percent of its outages. BG&E, the utility for Baltimore, had restored 61 percent. Together these two high-performing utilities had restored power to about 750,000 customers by the fourth day. The woeful Pepco, which serves Montgomery County and parts of D.C., had restored just 43 percent of its outages, bringing a mere 200,000 back online. Some 239,000 Pepco customers remained without power, and the utility was saying it would be until Friday night before power was back, and then only to 90 percent of outages. This is happening as a heat wave pushes daily temperatures close to 100 degrees.

Montgomery County, Maryland, is one of the nation's bluest and wealthiest counties; its perennially awful power service raises the question of whether liberals can make the trains run on time.

Since the storm, PEPCO has announced it will charging its customers extra to make up for revenues lost because of the storm outages, and the utility complained quite publicly when the Maryland legislature only approved $18 million of its requested $68 million rate increase in the wake of its catastrophic failure. (Note that the outages following the derecho were just the latest and worst of a series of severe PEPCO outages in recent years.) So yes, that's O'Malley in a nutshell — a tax raiser who can't even keep the lights on.

The case against Cuomo isn't as strong but still troubling. It's true that Cuomo has done some good things fiscally, and the way he shepherded legalizing gay marriage through the state legislature showed a surprising amount of political skill, even if the stance might not have national appeal. However, we recently got a reminder that New York politics remain a cesspool, and Cuomo is up to his neck in it. Last week, the New York Times reported:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration, already drawing attention for its focus on secrecy, has now begun editing his record as New York attorney general, sending aides to the state archives to remove key documents from public view.

It gets even worse. Cuomo's office recently released a letter regarding Cuomo's shady relationship with a gambling special interest:

The letter — released under a Freedom of Information Law request — was sent to The New York Times following the newspaper's reporting on $2 million in donations made by gambling interests to the Committee to Save New York, a group that spent $12 million on mostly pro-Cuomo advertisements in 2011 but has refused to release the names of its donors. The Times referenced the letter in its follow-up reporting, but it had not been released in full by the Cuomo administration.

Note that the letter was released the Friday afternoon before last, the day of the Aurora shooting. Seems odd to dump bad news the day dozens of people were shot in a killing spree.

But if O'Malley exhibited a failure to lead in the face of a disaster and Cuomo hid bad news behind a national tragedy, one Democratic governor recently faced a crisis and proved he might be capable of handling higher office. So far, only Stephanie Simon of Reuters seems to have noticed:

[Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper] remarks, at a news conference last Friday, sounded even more unfocused by comparison with the crisp report delivered minutes later by Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates.

But his halting performance on the national stage did not seem to bother the governor's constituents. On the contrary, the geeky Democrat with the funny name has earned high marks from Colorado voters precisely because he's unpolished, unscripted and slightly awkward - all of which makes him seem authentic and, especially in recent days, genuinely empathetic, political analysts say.

Hickenlooper consistently earns favorability ratings of 60 percent or higher in a state where the electorate is roughly divided in thirds among Democrats, Republicans and independents. That makes him one of the most broadly popular governors in the country; he's sometimes mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

Watching him at the news conference, wearing rumpled shirt sleeves and fumbling to find the right tone, outsiders might have said "He was not as professional as he could be," said Floyd Ciruli, an independent pollster in Denver. "But that is pure Hickenlooper. He is in no way artificial or practiced."

Hickenlooper has been mentioned as a 2016 contender before. In addition to having high approval ratings as governor of an important swing state, it's worth noting he's demonstrated a fair degree of independence from the liberal party orthodoxy — for instance, Hickenlooper has defended oil and gas companies's use of hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. "fracking", which is deeply unpopular with environmentalists.

If Hickenlooper's surprising popularity holds following his leadership role in handling Colorado's recent wildfires and the Aurora shooting, Democrats ought to start waking up to the fact he's cut from presidential timber.

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