STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is among the scheduled speakers at the Democratic Convention tonight. The former brew pub owner is one of the most popular governors in the country, and the Obama campaign hopes his popularity will help the party, once again, with the battleground state of Colorado in November. Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC has this profile.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: John Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver four years ago when his city hosted the Democratic National Convention that nominated then Senator Barack Obama.
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: Thank you.
SIEGLER: Democrats then said the road to victory ran through Denver and the West, a fast growing region with changing demographics. Expect Governor Hickenlooper to make similar calls tonight. His brand is one the party touts a lot in the West - business friendly, more Independent than partisan. Hickenlooper first moved here in the 1980s to work in the oil fields. But when the boom went bust, he opened a brew pub in a once dilapidated Denver neighborhood, a story he told often while campaigning for governor.
GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER: That sense of having been laid off and been through the process of reinventing myself, I think, is going to be very useful to really getting out there and helping the state reinvent itself and get the state economy going once again.
SIEGLER: Under Hickenlooper, Colorado's economy has faired slightly better than some other swing states, and a recent poll showed that just 18 percent of Coloradans disapprove of the job he's doing. But he has had some clashes with Republicans.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And we're covering the state capitol for you this morning. Lawmakers back at work in just a few hours. It's for a special session, of course, ordered by the governor.
SIEGLER: Hickenlooper ordered the special legislative session in May when Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty led a filibuster against a bill his administration backed legalizing civil unions.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE FRANK MCNULTY: We ought not, and should not, be spending time on divisive social issues when unemployment remains far too high.
HICKENLOOPER: There should've been a debate and a vote on civil unions and it's not gay marriage, it is civil unions.
SIEGLER: Hickenlooper stuck to that messaging even when President Obama came out in support of gay marriage. Many analysts called it a wise political move so as not to turn away independents from his party and President Obama in this swing state. Hickenlooper has appeared alongside the president at numerous campaign stops here.
OBAMA: First of all, one of the best governors and one of the funniest governors in the country, give it up for John Hickenlooper.
SIEGLER: The Governor also won praise across the political spectrum for his leadership and compassion in recent months, as Coloradans endured destructive wildfires and the Aurora theater shootings.
HICKENLOOPER: There's not one of us that doesn't read or hear this story, certainly anyone who has children, and think about it being your child in that movie theater.
SIEGLER: It's also been a tough summer, personally, for Hickenlooper. He and his wife announced they're separating. But many pundits didn't seem to think troubles in his personal life would affect his popularity or any of his future political ambitions. Still, Hickenlooper has so far rebuffed speculation that he's on the short list as a possible presidential contender in 2016.
HICKENLOOPER: I'm not doing it. You know, you've got a choice. You can either be the best governor you possibly can be and try to make Colorado a model of good government.
SIEGLER: Or start hiring consultants and fundraising, he says. Indeed, there are no signs he's doing that. But part of that quirky Hickenlooper brand is a reputation for the unpredictable.
For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.
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