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Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, says he's just as worried about the Democratic Party as he is President Trump. And that's one reason why Mr. Schultz is traveling across the country to explore a possible independent run for the White House. NPR's Scott Detrow caught up with him in Colorado.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: No independent presidential campaign has come anywhere close to winning the White House. That doesn't bother Howard Schultz.
HOWARD SCHULTZ: Well, a lot of things have not happened in America, but somehow they happen for the first time. In 1987, when Starbucks had 11 stores and 100 employees, I couldn't get anyone to invest in Starbucks.
DETROW: Schultz's interest in an independent bid has made a lot of Democrats angry.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Go back to Davos with the other billionaire elite who think they know how to run the world.
DETROW: People like that heckler at a New York event are worried he'll split the anti-Trump vote. Schultz says he doesn't want to do anything to give Trump a second term. But talking to voters in Denver, he focused a lot of fire on Democrats.
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SCHULTZ: If I was a betting person, which I'm not, Donald Trump is going to get re-elected. And the spoiler in the race is that Democrat socialist. That's the spoiler.
DETROW: As Democrat after Democrat endorses policies like "Medicare for All," the Green New Deal and drastic tax hikes on the wealthy, Schultz says he's worried the party is veering toward socialism. The attack mirrors Republican messaging ahead of next year's election. But Schultz says he really is as concerned about a far-left Democrat in the White House as he is a second Trump term.
SCHULTZ: We are going to fracture our democracy, fracture our free enterprise system. And it's going to be a very, very bad time for the American people.
DETROW: This is why Schultz sees a viable path to the 270 electoral votes he'd need to win. Schultz wouldn't say where he sees most of those votes coming from, but he sounds pretty confident.
SCHULTZ: There's a very good chance that I can win the state of Texas.
DETROW: The last internal poll Schultz's exploratory campaign made public had him in the teens with Donald Trump narrowly edging out the Democratic candidate. And Schultz's viability was one of the main concerns on the minds of several voters who came to hear him in Denver. Lisa Eacker has drifted from Republican to independent voter and is excited by the idea of Schultz's campaign. Still, she says...
LISA EACKER: As much as I would want to vote my conscience, based on having someone with a great deal of integrity and the ability to get things done, I have to really weigh the other because I can't support another four years of this administration.
DETROW: After the Denver town hall, Schultz met with a group of young startup executives. Schultz seemed much more relaxed and animated in that setting.
SCHULTZ: What is the core purpose and reason for being of your business? And everyone in the company has to understand that just, like, in a nanosecond.
DETROW: So I asked what that core purpose is for his possible campaign.
SCHULTZ: You can't have more than three to five priorities. You've got to decide what's most important. The most important thing is, first and foremost, let's restore trust and confidence in the government, in leadership and in the Oval Office.
DETROW: Schultz says other priorities would be addressing inequality, immigration, health care and the national debt. Most of his plans are either vague or have been proposed before without success. He says the difference would be his independence.
SCHULTZ: Things that are realistic, that are truthful. People may not agree with me. They may not like the idea. But I'm going to be honest with the American people.
DETROW: Schultz's first challenge - deciding whether it's realistic to win the White House as an independent. He'll decide by early summer. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Denver.
(SOUNDBITE OF GEOTIC'S "ACTUALLY SMILING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.