Democratic derby: Hickenlooper, Inslee and…Andrew Cuomo?

The Democratic stampede is under way, with candidates charging in who have little national name recognition.

The latest two entrants are governors with solid records, but no record of exciting anyone. They are basically running as competent managers, which may be admirable, but is also a tough sell in a polarized environment where all the Democratic energy seems to be on the left.

John Hickenlooper, the former Colorado governor, and Jay Inslee, the current Washington governor, probably figure they have as good a shot as anyone else—and that the national attention couldn’t hurt, even if they flame out.

And then there’s Andrew Cuomo, who’s making the case for a nominee very much like him—but only dropping the barest hints that he might run.

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The New York Times says Hickenlooper is a “socially progressive, pro-business Democrat who has called himself an ‘extreme moderate.’”

Even a friend of Hickenlooper is quoted as saying: “There are very few people I know who wake up and want to go caucus to support a raging moderate.”

And his spokeswoman “compared a potential Hickenlooper-Trump election to ‘a “Revenge of the Nerds”-type situation.’”

Running as a nerd doesn’t strike me as a winning formula in the Trump era.

Liberal Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman says that “in a different year he might have been a strong contender” as a “reasonably successful and well-liked governor, middle-aged white guy.” But he argues that it’s as though Hickenlooper “parachuted in from a few decades ago and has no idea how politics works in 2019 or what sorts of impediments the next Democratic president is going to face”—namely, fierce Republican opposition.

Inslee, a former congressman, is running with climate change as his overriding priority, trying to separate himself from the rest of the field. But as the Post noted, “despite his calls for drastic action to combat climate change, Inslee’s most ambitious climate initiative — the institution of a tax on carbon emissions — was voted down in the state’s November elections amid massive opposition spending from oil companies.”

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A Seattle Times story observes that “it remains to seen whether Inslee can stand out even on his signature issue, given that other Democratic candidates have expressed support, at least in principle, for a shift to a clean energy economy dubbed the Green New Deal.”

The Cuomo chatter is fueled by an Atlantic piece that featured several hours of interviews with the third-term New York governor.

Cuomo keeps dodging the question of whether he’d like to be president, and then says Joe Biden is running anyway. And if Biden doesn’t run? “Call me back,” says Cuomo.

On paper, Cuomo would be a strong candidate, having accomplished such liberal goals as same-sex marriage and gun control in one of the biggest blue states. But at home he’s often criticized for not being liberal enough.

“Cuomo made it clear that he thinks most of the Democrats running for president are going off a cliff, feeling out how far left they can go while still saying Sanders is too far left.”

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In other words, he’s kinda sorta making the case for himself without doing so.

I covered his father, Mario Cuomo, who was also a third-term governor in 1991 when he left a plane on a runway rather than fly to New Hampshire on the last day of the filing deadline to challenge Bill Clinton and others.

My sense is that the current governor shares that aversion to a White House bid, or he would have done more to lay the groundwork before now.

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The governors provide a fascinating counterpoint to all the Democratic senators already in the campaign. There was a time when the country liked elevating governors to the White House: Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush.

But that was before Donald Trump transformed the political landscape.