Colorado senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet once seemed apt facets of purple politics. Bennet, 54, is a moderate Democrat, a distinction that matters in his party when Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont, is a strong contender for the 2020 presidential nomination.
Where Sanders and other progressive Democrats want to talk about making higher eduction tuition-free, moving radically to end the use of fossil fuels and socializing health care, Bennet’s top issues include education, climate change and immigration – but he champions more incremental improvements. He supported the Keystone XL oil pipeline, for example, and he thinks the Affordable Care Act needs a chance to work.
Bennet also was one of the bipartisan group of senators who crafted an immigration reform bill in 2013 that was rejected by House Republicans who were afraid to give President Barack Obama a victory. Had it passed, President Donald Trump might never have had immigration as an issue to beat like a rented mule in 2016, and there is a good chance immigration would not be a crisis now. Recently, Bennet announced he too is running for president.
Gardner, 44, could have been described as a moderate Republican at one time. He and Bennet have worked together to craft legislation on conservation, immigration and veterans affairs. But there does not seem to be a place for a moderate in his party in the era of Trump. For voters in 2020, when Gardner is up for re-election, what may stand out is that he endorsed Trump’s re-election in February of this year.
Bennet is a protégé of former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is also running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. When Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver, Bennet was his chief of staff and then superintendent of Denver public schools. He is also the older brother of the editorial page editor of The New York Times, James Bennet, which led that paper to announce that James henceforth will recuse himself from any work related to the 2020 presidential election. Now that is brotherly love.
Another Hickenlooper protégé, Dan Baer, announced several weeks ago that he will join the Democratic primary race to take on Gardner. Baer, 42, was the U.S. ambassador for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe under Obama. After Trump’s ascension, Hickenlooper made him executive director of Colorado’s Department of Higher Education. Baer stopped in the for with us the other week. He was getting a look at Southwest Colorado, which we recommend for all statewide office-seekers. We have said before that we admire Hickenlooper’s executive style. We also admire the way he gives a leg up to promising politicians. Baer is impressive.
Colorado’s Democratic primaries will not take place until March of 2020, however, almost a year away, which gives Baer and others gunning for Gardner plenty of time to stake out ground on issues Coloradans care about. We look forward to that digestible unfolding.
The first debate in the Democratic presidential primary will be at the end of June, less than two months away. Sixteen candidates have qualified for it by getting 1 percent or more in three polls or by having at least 65,000 unique donors.
Bennet will need to be aggressive to make that first hurdle, which has not always been his style. He is thoughtful, a quality we find lacking in many other politicians, but it may be lacking for good electoral reasons in our ever-expanding political cycles.
Bennet seems ready. “When campaigning never stops, governing never begins,” he said in his launch video.
“You probably don’t know me because I don’t go on cable news every night,” he explained. “I didn’t go to Washington to get attention, I went to pay attention, to what would help the people who sent me there make their lives better.”
It is a fine beginning.