The blizzard of candidates entering the Democrats’ 2020 presidential primaries is sure to continue well into spring. But with all the talk of ideological lanes, viral media moments, fundraising prowess, age, race and gender, this contest will ultimately come down to answering the one all-consuming question: Who can beat President Trump?
The party’s field will most certainly present the most inspiring mosaic of diversity in U.S. presidential history. But it is quite possible, when all is said and done, that the party of Barack Obama, universal health care, the Green New Deal, the resistance and identity politics will turn to a soft-spoken, white son of the establishment to beat back Trumpism.
Michael F. Bennet is a 54-year-old senator from Colorado who has represented that purple state for 10 years. On paper, Bennet’s biography is far too conventional for today’s left-leaning Democratic Party. He’s a graduate of Washington, D.C.’s tony symbol of prep school education (St. Albans), as well as of Wesleyan University and Yale Law School. His grandfather worked for FDR, his father was a Washington fixture for decades, and his brother, James, runs the New York Times editorial page. Bennet spent his formative years as a creature of the Beltway’s black lagoon, a legacy and history that put him wildly out of step with the zeitgeist of the progressive anti-establishmentarianism energizing his party right now.
But take a closer look at Bennet’s résumé and skill set, and it becomes clear that he could be the answer to the question that every Democrat — from the far left to the methodical middle — is asking: Who can win this race?
Bennet has rarely sought the spotlight, even as a senator, so you are forgiven if you could not pick him out of a police lineup. But over time, he has quietly burnished his origins with a sparkling, diverse résumé that should appeal to a wide segment of the electorate — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.
First, consider the jobs Bennet has held: top aide to the governor of Ohio; federal appeals court law clerk; a stint in Bill Clinton’s Justice Department; assistant to the U.S. attorney in Connecticut; chief of staff to the Denver mayor; and crusading superintendent of the Denver school system. He has worked on issues as diverse as oil production and the movie theater business and has substantial private-sector experience, too, with the Anschutz Investment Co.
In 2009, Bennet was appointed to an open Senate seat in Colorado. Since then, he has won two elections. From the start, he has been a quiet favorite of Democratic leaders in Congress, of President Obama, both Clintons and the party’s donor networks from coast to coast. If Bennet does enter the race — and on Sunday he clearly suggested he might — he could earn support from an array of party grandees.
But the Colorado senator has also shown the capacity to inspire the grass roots. His virtuoso C-SPAN performance last month on the Senate floor eviscerating Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) over the government shutdown became a viral media moment. It put Bennet’s best traits on display: an impressive intellect, passion, toughness, humor, a capacity to explain policy and a fidelity to the principles that unite not just Democrats but a center-left coalition that could break the logjam of fifty-fifty America.
In Congress, Bennet has been a quiet leader on many of the issues that are central to the aspirations of the next generations of Americans: gun safety, immigration, LGTBQ rights, energy and the environment. He has simultaneously worked with members of both parties grappling with more traditional challenges, such as health-care spending and deficit reduction.
In many ways, Bennet melds the best of the last two Democrats to win the White House, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He has an Ivy league pedigree combined with a common touch. A commitment to key centrist fiscal policies paired with a passion for the modern concerns of his party’s progressive voters. A history with establishment institutions leavened by vast experience outside Washington. With his serious, sober, stable and calming presence, there is no prospective Democratic presidential candidate who presents as clear a contrast with Trump.
There is currently no front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and there might not be one until the race begins in earnest early next year. There’s reason to be skeptical of Joe Biden’s potential candidacy; other Democrats have stumbled out of the gate. So the addition of yet another U.S. senator to this ever-expanding field should be seen as a positive — even a low-key centrist running in a political environment defined by red-hot rhetoric and second-rate résumés.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Michael Bennet can best the growing field of Democratic candidates vying to defeat Trump and restore honor to the White House. But here’s hoping the quiet Colorado senator gives it a try.