Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is seeking to be the Democratic candidate who will oppose Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020, speaks with local Democrats and others at the Aspen Police Department’s community room on Tuesday afternoon.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — who is hoping to win the blessing of the state’s Democrats to oppose Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020 — was in Aspen on Tuesday for an afternoon visit with local voters and an evening fundraiser.

Hickenlooper took questions from a crowd of about 40 people at the Aspen Police Department’s community room. He said he has been touching base with county chairs of Democratic Party organizations across the state to organize meet-and-greets. Pitkin County was one of the first stops on his list.

After registering between 1 percent and 2 percent in national polls during a five-month campaign for president this year, Hickenlooper decided to run for Gardner’s Senate seat, making his formal announcement in an Aug. 21 video. Republicans quickly responded that Hickenlooper had previously expressed an aversion to serving in the Senate.

In a brief interview at the police station, Hickenlooper said he directly addressed that issue in front of Pitkin County voters.

“They asked a lot of questions about health care and climate change, about the effects of climate change and what it could do to a ski town,” Hickenlooper said. “I also talked a little bit about how for a long time, I thought D.C. was a lousy place for someone like me who likes to get things done. But at a certain point you have to decide, ‘Am I going to be a critic and sit on the side, or do I go back and try to change things?’ My decision was to be part of the change.”

The 67-year-old moderate said he is “10 times more excited about running for Senate” than he was when he ran for mayor of Denver, in 2003, or governor, in 2010. Hickenlooper served two terms as governor, the last one ending in January. He was succeeded by Democrat Jared Polis.

He criticized Gardner as someone who is marching in step with President Donald Trump and policies that would hurt the state. For example, a repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act — more widely known by its nickname “Obamacare” — would mean the shutdown of more than a dozen Colorado health-care facilities that serve low-income residents, he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to take enormous amounts of money to deal with issues like health care,” he told the local crowd. 

Speaking on health care reform, he said Congress should take action “so we are no longer the one country [that] can’t negotiate price discounts with pharmaceutical companies. …Right now we’re paying for the research for medical products that are being sold at a discount to the rest of the world.”

Hickenlooper also spoke on climate change, saying U.S. industries “have a responsibility to pay the lion’s share of the costs” for many of the proposed solutions to the problem.

Also on Tuesday, Hickenlooper reacted to the breaking news about calls for an impeachment inquiry into whether President Donald Trump phoned Ukraine’s president and asked for an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

“The president isn't above the law,” Hickenlooper tweeted. “We must get to the bottom of these disturbing allegations.”

Polls show that Hickenlooper is the early frontrunner to become the official Democratic candidate facing Gardner on Nov. 5. However, several other Colorado Democrats have remained in the race following Hickenlooper’s late-August announcement, including Andrew Romanoff, Alice Madden, Angela Williams, Lorena Garcia, Trish Zornio, Stephany Rose Spaulding and Michelle Ferrigno Warren. A few other early contenders have dropped out.

Howard Wallach, chair of the Pitkin County Democrats, said he was delighted that Hickenlooper chose Aspen for one of his first Senate campaign appearances.

“We were very happy with his preparedness this early in the campaign,” Wallach said. “We’re looking forward to an interesting exchange of ideas going forward. There are other candidates in the race, and Hickenlooper will have to make his case as he travels around the state.”

Hickenlooper was expected to attend a Tuesday night fundraiser at the home of Bob and Soledad Hurst.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.