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Meet the presidential candidate who once got laid off

Ben Werschkul
DC Producer

Most people who run for president seem to be on a political trajectory since birth.

In his mid-30s, former Vice President Joe Biden was already a U.S. Senator. Pete Buttigieg was into his second term as mayor of South Bend (he's just 37 now).

John Hickenlooper was getting laid off.

"I got laid off as a geologist," he told Rick Newman as part of Yahoo Finance's Meet the Candidate series. "I was out of work for over two years."

Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, earned a master's degree in geology and went to work as a geologist for a company called Buckhorn Petroleum. By the mid-1980s, the oil industry in Colorado was struggling and the company was sold and reorganized. He was let go in 1986.

"That's what a lot of people that supported Trump feel like," he says, "feeling like you've been left behind or that no one really cares about your future."

His situation was not exactly like many struggling Trump supporters. As he noted in his memoir, he received a year’s worth of severance when he was let go. He’d also been thinking about starting a business before the ax fell, so when the moment finally came, “truth was, I could not have been happier,” he wrote.

Over the intervening two years, Hickenlooper figured out his next move: gathering investors to start his own business.

He opened the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver in 1988 with some business partners.

That business put Hickenlooper on a trajectory that led to his time as mayor of Denver, governor of Colorado, and now a presidential candidate. When he eventually sold his stake in the company in 2007, he reportedly netted between $5 million and $10 million.

As he wrote in his book, “if I hadn’t been laid off, there’s no telling how long I might have done the sensible thing and stayed on, feeling unfulfilled, misplaced; my real life might never have begun.”

His business background, and the layoff that led to it, are now part of his presidential campaign message focused on his record as a pro-business pragmatist. It's a message that has yet to break through in a race largely shaped by the ideas of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist.

"Most people have no idea that I came from this kind of a background," he says. "That, in a funny way, really has prepared me, almost uniquely, to address Donald Trump."

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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