Colorado's Bennet Seeks Democratic Presidential Nod as Centrist

(Bloomberg) -- Colorado Senator Michael Bennet said he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, offering himself as another centrist alternative in an expanding field of candidates.

Bennet, 54, is the 21st Democrat and the seventh senator to enter the race to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020. The senator’s entry into the contest was delayed while he underwent treatment for prostate cancer.

“My plan is to run for president,” Bennet said Thursday on the “CBS This Morning” program. “I have a tendency to tell the truth to the people I represent in Colorado, and I want a chance to do that with the American people.”

Bennet, a senator since 2009 and a former managing director of Denver’s Anschutz Investment Co., faces a tough challenge in getting noticed in a crowd of candidates that includes some with wide name recognition and established campaign operations, notably former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Biden entered the race last week and has since solidified his status as the early front-runner, followed by Sanders. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, along with former Representative Beto O’Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are tightly packed behind them in the polls.

Bennet said the the Democratic Party “doesn’t stand for very much at the national level” in the eyes of many but the current race is a chance to overcome that perception. He cited health care and economic mobility as main themes in his campaign.

“This is the opportunity for us to show what we stand for; for us to have a competition of ideas,” Bennet said of the crowded democratic field, which he characterized is a good sign for the party. “I think it’s phenomenal that we’ve got as diverse of an array of candidates as we have.”

Bennet’s success in winning two full Senate terms in the swing state of Colorado and his reputation for working with Republicans could be a selling point in a general election against Trump. But his centrist leanings -- and past connections with the investment firm -- may be hurdles in Democratic primaries where the party’s progressive activists will be influential.

“There is no bipartisanship in Washington today to speak of -- that is true,” Bennet said, citing the influence of the conservative House Freedom Caucus as symptomatic of the failure to compromise. “Our politics in Washington lack all imagination, and I think going down the rat hole with the people who are dragging us down the rat hole just is a self-fulfilling prophecy of failing as a republic.”

The new entrant has already been critical of some of his Democratic rivals for embracing positions that could be seen as far-left litmus tests. When a Washington Post reporter asked him in March about the idea of changing the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court to benefit liberals -- an idea candidates like Harris and Warren have suggested they could be open to -- Bennet banged his head on a table four times and urged Democrats to worry more about their electability.

But his centrist reputation also puts him in direct competition with Biden, who occupies the same ideological space in the race.

Bennet has performed poorly compared with most other candidates in recent polls of Democratic voters.

Bennet has had an unconventional political career. He was appointed to the Senate in 2009, even though he had never been elected to any office. He was named to fill the seat of Democratic Senator Ken Salazar, who left to become President Barack Obama’s interior secretary. Yet, even though he was a surprise choice, Bennet proved to be a tough campaigner and was re-elected twice to the seat.

He is the second prominent Coloradoan seeking his party’s presidential nod. John Hickenlooper, a former governor and mayor of Denver, is also running.

Bennet’s earlier career included a stint as a counsel to the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. He then became managing director of Anschutz, where he accumulated about $12 million in wealth doing work that included reorganizing three national theater chains into Regal Entertainment Group.

Bennet later met Hickenlooper when he was running for mayor and became Hickenlooper’s chief of staff after his 2003 election. In 2005, Bennet was appointed superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

In the Senate, Bennet took on the high-profile job of running the 2014 campaign committee for the chamber’s Democrats and also carved out a reputation as an independent voice in the party who often was part of bipartisan “gangs” that attempted to forge accords on key legislation.

In an increasingly partisan Congress, his efforts haven’t been very fruitful. In 2011, he participated in a “Gang of Eight” seeking ways to avoid a fiscal crisis that would have come at the end of 2012 if no action was taken. But the deal averting the crisis was crafted largely by the Obama White House and Senate Republican leaders, and Bennet opposed it because he said it didn’t do enough to curb U.S. debt long term.

In 2013, he participated in a bipartisan gang that helped craft a broad immigration overhaul that cleared the Senate. But the GOP-led House never took it up. And in 2017 he again took part in bipartisan talks on immigration that failed to produce any legislation despite four months of daily meetings.

By and large, he’s voted with his party, including for the Affordable Care Act in 2009, against repeated GOP efforts to repeal or defund the health care measure, and against the broad 2017 GOP tax cuts. He’s sided with Republicans on some issues, including backing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

He also is often a late hold-out vote on key matters, including in 2017 during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a native of Colorado. Bennet agreed to introduce Gorsuch at the nominee’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, only to announce just before the final Senate vote that he would oppose a jurist he earlier said was qualified.

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