WINTERSET, Iowa — It was a routine campaign appearance at the Northside Cafe in John Hickenlooper's presidential campaign a woman fighting back tears asked, "What are they doing with the bodies?"

The former two-term governor of Colorado solemnly listened to her talk about the children who have died at the U.S.-Mexico border, then says, “All I can say is that this country has been through horrible times before” and that “it is our duty, our obligation” to rebuild an America that is better than we were.

“That is the only thing we can do that honors the memory of those kids,” he said.

Hickenlooper's campaign is admittedly a long shot. “I know I’m the dark horse,” he said. “I know we’ve got a steep hill to climb.” It is based on the bedrock idea of putting together a country he argues has been broken by the current president, going so far as to say in Iowa City that “Donald Trump has been such a natural disaster” and in Ankeny that “I’m running for president because I view this country as being in the middle of a crisis of division. I don’t think we’ve been this divided since the civil war.”

He sees himself — with his executive background as a governor and also a mayor of Denver — as the person who can beat Trump and rebuild America.

“I mean, I really feel this,” he said in the Northside Cafe. “I feel like the one person who’s running who has actually done what everyone else is talking about doing. They’ve all got ideas, but I’m a doer.”

In his campaign stops, Hickenlooper talks a lot about his background because there is a lot to talk about. He recounts that after being laid off from work as a geologist in the 1980s, he opened a “newfangled thing called a brew pub,” which became so successful he opened 14 others across the Midwest, learning in the process that “a true entrepreneur defines success not by how often you say ‘you’re fired,’ but by how often you say ‘you’re hired.’ ” He highlights his accomplishments as mayor of the mile-high city, including the Fast Tracks light rail system, universal pre-kindergarten and urban revitalization, as well as environmental and economic achievements from his time as Colorado governor. At the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Cedar Rapids, he tells the crowd, “On issue after issue I hold out that what we’ve done in Colorado is bring people together and demonstrate that you can still do these big progressive achievements. We made ourselves into a model for what the country can be.”

Hickenlooper says the key to his past successes, and what he wants to do as president, is to bring “people together who sometimes don’t like each other.” The phrase “We gotta work together” is a hallmark of every speech he makes as he campaigns across Iowa. He says he doesn’t “demonize business” and calls himself a “progressive pragmatist,” saying, “I’m progressive but a pragmatist. Pragmatist doesn’t mean you don’t do big things, it means you figure out how to do them.”

When asked in Winterset how he would appeal to moderate Democrat and Republican Trump voters, he said, “We’re going to grow the middle class,” and “You don’t need to be anti-environment and anti-sustainability to have a strong economy. They actually go together, and you can create good jobs and have cleaner air and cleaner water at the same time.”

On the issues, Hickenlooper gives shape to his “pragmatic progressivism."

Gun law reform: He favors universal background checks on gun purchases, saying that in Colorado they did background checks on 50 percent of purchases “and we had 38 people convicted of homicide who tried to buy a gun and we stopped them. Why not get to 100% of the gun sales and make sure you’re catching everybody?”

Immigration and the border: Hickenlooper wants to make sure conditions on the border are “humane,” invest in the countries that are producing many refugees, such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — “helping to create stable economies that are ruled by law” so people aren’t forced to flee — and have a 10-year path to citizenship for immigrants who don’t break the law. Finally, he says, “I know I might pick a fight, but I think we need secure borders.”

Health care: “We have to get to a point where we have universal health care, but not by taking private insurance away form 180 million people.”

Climate change: “We have to attack climate change directly and strongly. Create a network of electric vehicle recharging stations, closing coal plants and using wind, solar and batteries.”

China and tariff wars: “I’ve talked to economists at six different universities. There’s no example in the history of the world where a tariff war has a winner. Both sides end up coming out worse than they were before.” He said China has to be reined in, “but you don’t start a tariff war. You build relationships around the world to put pressure on that country to obey international agreements.”

When Hickenlooper was asked specifically if there was anything a president could do to help rural counties in Kansas that are losing population, he said he would push for more tax incentives for companies to invest in rural areas. “We also know that we need broadband in every single city and town, and it’s not in every city or town in Kansas yet," he said. "I mean, that’s to me government malpractice.”

During that same question-and-answer session in the Northside Cafe, someone told Hickenlooper that maybe he should be running for U.S. Senate rather than president. Hickenlooper disagreed, saying he has to “put my heart and soul into” into this race. He also believes his record of accomplishments is the ticket to victory in November 2020: “I think to beat Trump in Ohio and North Carolina and Pennsylvania and Michigan we need someone who can demonstrate that they’ve done it.”

To the naysayers, Hickenlooper says: “I know that we can do this. People say, ‘Oh, you’re going to get people to work together, but it’s not going to be as easy in Washington as it was in Colorado.’ Nonsense!” He ended his speech in Cedar Rapids the way he ends most talks, on a hopeful note: “We will come together and make this country better than it ever was before, and we will do it together.”