John Hickenlooper taking aim at socialism and Bernie Sanders in Democratic presidential primary

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who just months ago stumbled over whether he identifies as a capitalist, is expected Thursday morning to strongly denounce socialism after presidential primary rival U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders laid out his vision for how democratic socialism can continue to transform the United States.

“I have great respect for Sen. Sanders. He’s provided great clarity and urgency around the major issues facing working families,” Hickenlooper will say when he speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., according to prepared remarks provided by his campaign. “But I fundamentally disagree that we should do away with the democratic, regulated capitalism that has guided this country for over 200 years.”

Hickenlooper’s comments come less than 24 hours after Sanders, who resoundingly won over Colorado Democrats in 2016, gave a major address in which he detailed how he’d reform the nation’s economy.

“We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights,” Sanders said as he called for a “21st-century economic bill of rights” that includes a living wage, health care and housing.

In his Wednesday speech, Sanders invoked the names of former Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson for their work on the New Deal and civil rights.

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“Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion,” he said, later attacking President Donald Trump and what he called “corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires.”

Hickenlooper’s rebuttal comes less than two weeks before the first presidential primary debate.

The Coloradan has separated himself from the liberals in the Democratic field on a number of issues, beginning with his rejection of the Green New Deal, a congressional proposal that in part links a job guarantee to a greener economy, and Medicare for All, an idea Sanders ran on in 2016. And earlier this month, Hickenlooper was booed in California when he said: “If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer.”

Hickenlooper’s position has become more nuanced since he took the stage at the California Democratic Party’s state convention, with his comments Thursday acknowledging that government must play a role in improving the country.

“While Sanders has attacked those in the center for preaching incrementalism, the reality is that pragmatists don’t say “no” to big ideas, they figure out how to actually get them done,” Hickenlooper will say. “While government plays a vital role in tackling big challenges, it has rarely been successful alone. It is when government has teamed up with the private sector and nonprofits that we have seen our greatest successes – from the polio vaccine to the space race.”

According to a Hickenlooper spokeswoman, the campaign saw a sharp spike in donations the same day of his California speech.

The debate over democratic socialism is part of a larger conversation within the Democratic Party over which candidate is best positioned to take on Trump in the fall. Each of the nearly two dozen candidates falls along an ideological spectrum, with Sanders being the furthest to the left.

The Sanders campaign declined to comment on Hickenlooper’s remarks, saying Sanders’ speech speaks for itself.

“I do understand that I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word ‘socialism’ as a slur,” Sanders said. “But I should also tell you that I have faced and overcome these attacks for decades — and I am not the only one.”


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