Sen. Michael F. Bennet had a message for fellow Democrats this weekend as two more White House contenders formally jumped into the 2020 presidential race: Don’t forget about me.
“We’ve got a million people that are going to run, which I think is great,” Bennet (Colo.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But, he added, “I think having one more voice in that conversation that’s focused on America’s future, I don’t think would hurt.”
Bennet, 54, cast himself as a centrist Democrat who would bring business and managerial experience to the crowded field, should he decide to run. Before being appointed to the Senate in 2009, Bennet, an attorney, served as superintendent of Denver Public Schools and worked for a large private company.
“I’ve got a different set of experiences than the other folks in the race, many of whom are my friends and people that I like,” Bennet said. “I spent time in business and time as a schools superintendent before I was in the in the job that I’m in now.”
Speaking with moderator Chuck Todd, Bennett criticized President Trump for the rising federal deficit. In another gesture toward the center, Bennet declined to embrace the call for “Medicare-for-all,” a single-payer proposal where Medicare benefits would be offered to all Americans. The idea has become popular among some Democratic voters and 2020 presidential candidates.
Bennet said he would support a “public option” on health care, but does not want to eliminate private insurance.
“Now what Democrats are saying is, ‘If you like your insurance, we’re going to take it away from you,’ from 180 million people that get their insurance from their employer and like it, where 20 million Americans who are on Medicare Advantage, and love it. That seems like a bad opening offer for me,” he said.
A Bennet campaign would face many challenges. While he has a deep national network of donors from his time running the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm and was close to many Obama administration figures, Bennet is best known as a soft-spoken lawmaker who usually avoids the spotlight.
Bennet’s late father, Douglas J. Bennet, once led National Public Radio and worked in the Johnson, Clinton, and Carter administrations. Bennet’s brother, James, is the editorial page editor of the New York Times.
Bennet has been moving toward a possible campaign for months, albeit slowly. Last fall, the Associated Press reported that his team had been in touch with influential Iowa Democrats, and at the Capitol, Bennet has been stepping out with fiery speeches that have won him attention.
In January, Bennet’s nearly 25-minute floor remarks that were sharply critical of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) amid the then-ongoing government shutdown were widely shared on social media and drew hundreds of thousands of views online.
The Democratic field is growing fast, putting pressure on Bennet and others, such as former vice president Joe Biden, to make a decision. Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) are already in the race, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) officially launched her 2020 bid on Saturday at a rally in Lawrence, Mass. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced her presidential campaign on Sunday in Minneapolis.
One of Bennet’s longtime allies, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), is also moving toward a run and will visit New Hampshire this week.
Hickenlooper, Biden, former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe would all likely compete with Bennet for support from moderate Democrats, should they run.
Bennet has previously competed in a heated primary. His 2010 Senate primary race against former Colorado House speaker Andrew Romanoff drew national interest, with Bennet’s business record and his decisions as superintendent scrutinized in ads. As Bennet fended off Romanoff’s insurgent campaign, President Obama boosted Bennet and helped him stave off defeat.
In the general election that year, as Republicans made gains nationally, Bennet was able to use strong backing from Hispanic voters and women to beat a conservative Republican Senate nominee.