DES MOINES, Iowa — A month ago, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., was on the floor of the U.S. Senate, castigating Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Cruz’s fellow Republicans for shutting down the federal government. The impassioned speech went viral, all the more so because Bennet was not known as a firebrand.
And Friday, on a February evening, here Bennet was at a strip mall in suburban Des Moines, in the backroom of a bar, in what appeared to be the opening salvo of a presidential bid. He hasn’t made it official quite yet, but an announcement is about as expected as snow in Iowa. In conversations with reporters after the event, he appeared unperturbed by the increasingly crowded Democratic field, in which he would have to struggle for both name recognition and fundraising.
“I promise I will not yell at anybody today,” Bennet said in his opening remarks at the event, which was hosted by the Polk County Democrats and attended by several dozen people.
Thank you @polkdems! The work you’ve done across the county to elect Democrats & push for progress is inspiring. Couldn’t have asked for a better group tonight at this event. pic.twitter.com/Xfg6b7TZDd
— Michael Bennet (@MichaelBennet) February 23, 2019
Despite his casual, disarming manner, Bennet displayed unquestioning progressive bona fides. Only he managed to do so without resorting to a strident tone. And he rarely mentioned President Trump, whom he called an “accelerant of our difficulties,” but not the cause of them.
Bennet did say he wanted a “public option” for health insurance, referencing his “Medicare-X” proposal, one of whose innovations would be an initial outreach to rural areas. He also called for a lifetime lobbying ban on any former member of Congress. And he described Trump’s retreat from the Paris climate accord as “absolutely disgraceful,” suggesting at various points that a vigorous response to a warming globe would be a hallmark of his presidential administration.
The former superintendent of Denver Public Schools — which all three of his daughters attended — Bennet aligned himself with teachers who have conducted strikes around the nation. “Fund schools and fund teachers in a way that will make sense,” he said in response to a question about privatization of schools, noting that he had visited a high school upon landing in Iowa earlier that day. He also made several references to Colorado’s ranchers and farmers, previewing another potential argument for his candidacy.
Bennet said that money in politics was the “root of all evil,” strongly criticizing the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which largely deregulated contributions to political campaigns. But in a response to a question from Yahoo News, Bennet offered no details about how he would fund his own campaign for the White House.
The senator said he will decide on a potential run for the presidency within weeks, but he seemed to be encouraged by his enthusiastic reception in Des Moines.
Among those in the audience was Ryan Carter of Indianola. Carter voted for Trump in 2016, but was now regretting his decision. He was impressed by Bennet, who in response to a question from Carter about medical marijuana comfortably admitted that he didn’t know the answer.
“He’s awesome,” Carter said after the event. “I could get behind him, I think.”
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