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Detroit — Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper emphasized his moderate stances on health care to immigration in fiery exchanges with left-leaning Democratic presidential front runners during Tuesday's debate in Detroit.

"Last year Democrats flipped 40 Republican seats in the House, and not one of those 40 Democrats supported the policies of our front-runners at center stage," the former brew pub owner said in his opening remarks.  "Now, I share their progressive values, but I'm a little more pragmatic." 

The 67-year-old former Denver mayor was one of 10 candidates on the stage. Another 10 candidates will debate Wednesday, headlined by former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California. 

Hickenlooper rejected the Medicare for All plan espoused by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and supported by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as too extreme to appeal to the broad swath of Americans needed to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.

He supported giving people a choice between a public option similar to Medicare or keeping their private health insurance, saying health care reform must be "an evolution, not a revolution." 

Hickenlooper said "notion" that American's would give up their employer-paid health plans is "a disaster."

"You might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump," he said. 

On the world stage, Hickenlooper said Trump "has lurched from one international disaster to another."

The Green New Deal supported by Warren is “distraction” because global warming is an international problem, he said.

"What we do here has to be done all over the world, so we need to be working with every country all over the world," Hickenlooper said. 

And he strongly opposed steel tariffs and Trump's trade war with China and other nations. 

"There is a way at looking at trade that’s therapeutic," he said. "Trade wars are for losers.  You’re not going to win against China in a trade war."

On immigration, Hickenlooper does not support decriminalizing illegal border crossings.

"I agree that we need secure borders; there's no question about that," he said. "And the frustration with what's going on in Washington is they're kicking the ball back and forth.

"Secure the borders, make sure whatever law we have doesn't allow children to be snatched from their parents and put in cages. How hard can that be?"

Hickenlooper served as governor of Colorado from 2011 through 2018.  He served two terms as the mayor of Denver, starting in 2003. 

Hickenlooper supports gun control, having been governor of Colorado when a gunman killed nine movie-goers at the Aurora theater in 2012. He approved legislation that required universal background checks for gun purchasers and banned high-capacity magazines, and would like to replicate that on a federal level. 

In Detroit Tuesday, he touted his record in Colorado, saying he can replicate his successes with education reform, gun control and other policies at the federal level,.

See all candidate major moments 

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @kbouffardDN 

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