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Politics

It's Official: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet Is Running For President In 2020

Michael Bennet
Courtesy Bennet for Colorado
Michael Bennet in Grand Junction during his 2016 senate campaign.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet announced his 2020 presidential bid on CBS This Morning on Thursday, calling himself an honest voice with a broad set of experiences that suit him well in a growing field of Democratic candidates. 

Bennet said he has two big reasons for running. One is a lack of economic mobility for most Americans and a second is the need to restore integrity to government.

“If we keep going down this road, we’re gonna be the first generation of Americans to leave less opportunity, not more, to the next generation,” he said. “And I just need to do everything I can do to make sure we don’t do that.”

In a campaign video uploaded to Twitter, Bennet introduced himself to the country.

Flanked by snow-capped mountains, he ticked through his experience as Denver Public Schools superintendent and painted himself as a listener and problem solver who has mostly steered clear of Washington theatrics.

“You may not know me, but over the years I’ve learned a lot about what Americans struggle with,” he said.

Echoing a strategy embraced by many 2020 candidates, Bennet also tweeted that he wouldn’t be accepting any corporate PAC money during his campaign.

“This campaign is about you and should be funded by you,” he said. “Let’s overturn Citizens United, end partisan gerrymandering, and ban members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists.”

He joins an already crowded field of Democratic contenders including his friend and former boss, John Hickenlooper. More than a dozen other politicians from around the country are already looking to unseat President Donald Trump.

Bennet's announcement comes after a major health scare. In late March, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He underwent surgery in Colorado during the Senate's April recess. In a statement, Bennet said he was fortunate the disease was detected early.

"This unanticipated hurdle only reinforces how strongly I feel about contributing to the larger conversation about the future of our country, and I am even more committed to drive that conversation in a positive direction," he said.

Bennet, who turns 55 later this year, moved to Colorado in the late 90s after serving in the Clinton administration. He worked at a venture capital firm in Denver before spending two years as then-mayor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff.

He went on to lead the Denver Public School system as superintendent for five years. In 2009, then-Gov. Bill Ritter tapped Bennet to fill a vacant senate seat.

A biography on Bennet's campaign website touts his work in Congress over the past decade as "pragmatic" and "fighting to overcome the dysfunction in Washington."

In January, a 30-minute senate floor speech he made during the 35-day government shutdown went viral, giving Bennet his first major national exposure.

Earlier in March, he supported a resolution overturning Trump's national emergency declaration for border wall funding. Trump ultimately vetoed the resolution.

In a nod to his time as DPS superintendent, Bennet has also cast himself as an advocate for students and education-related causes. In an interview on Meet the Press in February, he said he had a different set of experiences than others already in the race. He argued that Congress' current agenda falls short when it comes to thinking about younger Americans.

"We've got a million people running, which is great," Bennet said. "And I think having one more voice in that conversation that's focused on America's future, I don't think, would hurt."

Theresa Peña, former DPS school board president, worked with Bennet during his time as superintendent. She said she was excited about him running.

"I think what I hope as our next president, whether it's Michael or anybody else, is that this tendency to go to the corners and become ideologically driven is just exhausting for people," Peña said. "I think that while Michael is not afraid to engage in a good battle, that is not his first, second or third tendency."

Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, said Bennet's viral senate floor speech wouldn't be enough to win over Democratic primary voters.

Michael Bennet
Credit Bennet for Colorado
/
Bennet for Colorado
Michael Bennet in Colorado Springs during his 2016 senate campaign.

"It's a pretty good start for impressing Democrats across the country but he doesn't have a deep well to draw from," he said.

Another problem Bennet has is his friend — and former boss — John Hickenlooper. Both have publicly said the more candidates, the merrier. But, Masket said, the former governor already has a big head start.

"It's already a fairly crowded field, and the fact that Hickenlooper has already secured commitments from a fair amount of Democratic donors in the state … if Hickenlooper's campaign gets any traction at all, it'll make it harder for Bennet to jump in," he said.

Leading up to his announcement, Bennet spent time talking to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and several other primary states.

Bennet told attendees at a house party in Concord that Trump's election was a "tragedy" and he was the right guy to beat him in 2020.

"But it's not enough just to beat him," he told the group. "We gotta figure out how to come out on the other side constructing a new politics that's worthy of our children and grandchildren."

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