By John Frank / The Denver Post
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper pledged to remain neutral in the Democratic race to replace him, but one candidate appears to be his favorite to win.

Donna Lynne, the state’s lieutenant governor, will launch her campaign Thursday with the governor’s blessing and, thanks to him, the advantages of an incumbent in the crowded 2018 contest.

The two are appearing shoulder-to-shoulder at more events across the state, and Hickenlooper is lending Lynne his pulpit to make high-profile appearances that will boost her campaign — such as a keynote speaker at the recent energy summit in Denver and as the officiant of the coin toss for last week’s Rocky Mountain Showdown football game, which drew more than 70,000.

The term-limited Hickenlooper privately encouraged Lynne to run for governor and now publicly serves as her chief cheerleader, lavishing her with more praise than other Democratic candidates and frequently touting her as a behind-the-scenes force of his administration.

“If you ask me about Donna Lynne, she’s one of the flat-out most talented people I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with some pretty talented people,” Hickenlooper said in a recent interview.

In selecting an heir apparent, Hickenlooper may be seeking to preserve his legacy and personal brand as a mostly apolitical, business-friendly leader who demonstrated that the middle path in a polarized universe can prove successful.

Lynne is expected to pursue a similar path as a moderate in a race with strong Democrats, and she will need the governor’s help as a first-time candidate in Colorado with no established base of party support.

Her campaign will test the extent of Hickenlooper’s influence in a Democratic nomination process that traditionally favors party loyalists.

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