What If Michael Bennet Ran for President and No One Noticed?

Senator Michael Bennet did a lot of thinking before deciding to end his presidential bid.
Senator Michael Bennet did a lot of thinking before deciding to end his presidential bid. Photo by Brandon Marshall
At Westword, we're accustomed to folks ignoring our advice, so we weren't exactly stunned when our September 12, 2019, post "Why Michael Bennet Needs to Stop Running for President Right Now" failed to persuade the Colorado senator to immediately smother his Oval Office campaign. Instead, he remained in the race until late yesterday, February 11, when his many months of effort to make a mark in the New Hampshire primary resulted in a reported 905 votes, 0.3 percent of the total, as of 3:13 a.m. Mountain time.

Did Bennet's presidential persistence damage him politically? Right now, Bennet doesn't seem to have suffered any long-term harm, in part because of his near-complete failure to gain any traction among voters. Indeed, we're betting a common reaction to his announcement about quitting was surprise that he hadn't already done so.

Here are our original ten reasons for Bennet to surrender (in bold) and our take on them today:

1. The best scenario for a Bennet victory involves the death of every other candidate

Well, yeah.

Back in September, Bennet was one of twenty Democrats aiming for the presidency, and he was preceded in giving up the ghost by a number of higher-profile hopefuls, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, ex-U.S. Housing secretary Julián Castro, California Senator Kamala Harris and former Texas rep Beto O'Rourke. But that left plenty of other human-shaped obstacles in front of him — among them Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, ex-veep Joe Biden and onetime New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is testing the theory that what America really wants post-Donald Trump is another billionaire.

If even entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who earned support from 2.8 percent of New Hampshire's ballot-casters as of the most recent count, saw no path forward (he suspended his efforts on February 11, too), Bennet couldn't lay out a credible scenario for his own victory.

2. His only chances are in Iowa and Nevada — and he has no chance in Iowa and Nevada

Geography seemed like a potential lifeline in these two states. But Bennet's polling data in Iowa in advance of its recent caucus was so anemic that he decided to go all in for New Hampshire. That decision guaranteed he wouldn't make it to Nevada.

3. An out-of-the-blue candidate hasn't won the nomination in nearly a half-century...

Breaking a streak that's been in place since former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter's left-field success in 1976 is still possible; Buttigieg would qualify. We'll know a lot more about Mayor Pete's chances after South Carolina, a state with infinitely greater diversity than either Iowa or New Hampshire, where he's done very well.

4. ...and even the unlikeliest winners were in much better shape than Bennet at this point in their campaigns

During the summer and fall of 1975, Carter typically polled in the single digits, and by year's end, even before he won the Iowa caucus, he was seen as a genuine contender. And former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, considered a fluky Democratic-nomination winner in 1988, was described as the best-financed candidate when Biden (yes, he's been around that long) raised the white flag the previous September. Dukakis also benefited from the withdrawal in May of Colorado's own Gary Hart; the latter's attempted comeback in December after a scandal involving a boat called the Monkey Business was doomed from the jump.

And Bennet? He was no more than a blip in polls last September, and the situation continued to deteriorate over time. Note that one of the most frequently asked questions about him in Google search was, "Is Michael Bennet still a candidate?"

Senator Michael Bennet just before announcing his run for the presidency on CBS This Morning in May 2019.
Michael Bennet Twitter
5. He can stop throwing good money after bad

By last September, Bennet had raised about $3.5 million — about one-fifth the amount Sanders had collected and one-seventh of Buttigieg's sum over the same period. By year's end, according to OpenSecrets.org, Bennet's take had gone up to around $6.8 million, but he'd spent all but $517,000. After that, the number of stops the money train made at his place became a lot less frequent.

6. Bennet has already maxed out on positive exposure

This assertion was among our shakiest. Despite being seen as a presidential no-hoper, he's continued to book spots on network news programs such as CBS and MSNBC because of the high esteem in which he's held by the pundit class. While these appearances didn't do him any good from an electoral standpoint, they've kept his face before a certain segment of the public in ways that could prove beneficial to him down the line.

7. He's already a lock for a cabinet post if he wants one...

Should any Democrat be elected president in November 2020, Bennet remains the odds-on favorite to become Secretary of Education, given his position last decade as superintendent of Denver Public Schools. That was true then, and it's true now.

8. ...and if he doesn't, he can become much more powerful in the Senate

Last September, we wrote: "In the event of a Democratic presidential triumph, Bennet can instantly become one of the Senate's most powerful presences, with the ability to push the sort of education reforms he's been discussing since he took office, among many, many other items on his legislative wish list. Such accomplishments would position him for another presidential run down the line under more favorable circumstances than presently exist."


9. The only people he can get to endorse him are from Colorado

As of last September, Bennet's main endorsers were Hart, now 82, and former Colorado governor Bill Ritter. But he subsequently earned the blessing of onetime Bill Clinton adviser and living/breathing cartoon character James Carville, Maine Congressman Jared Golden and two figures from New Hampshire: Tom Burack, once the state's Department of Environmental Services commissioner, and state representative Gary Woods. The last two backers presumably resulted in a couple of extra votes for Bennet in New Hampshire. Without them, he might have racked up just 903.

10. The longer he stays in, the more diminished he'll become

Our worst guess. We thought Bennet would look like a fool after the likes of former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand all determined that enough was enough. But owing to his almost total lack of success, his quizzical decision to keep plugging away until yesterday was largely overlooked. In this case, losing is winning, at least as far as Bennet's political future is involved.

Continue to read Bennet's campaign-suspension speech:

Hello, New Hampshire. Thank you very much for all being here tonight and thank you very much for what you’ve done for this campaign.

I want to start by thanking Susan and the girls for their unbelievable efforts over this entire campaign. And for the sacrifices that they’ve made over the last 11 years that I’ve been in the Senate, and the years before that when I was Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools….

I’d like to thank my national campaign staff who ran through walls all across the country. There were never as many of them as some of the other campaigns, but they were a mighty force to be reckoned with.

I also want to thank my Senate staff for their incredible work and their leadership over the past decade.

There are so many people that I will thank over the coming days, but I wanted to mention tonight my predecessor Gary Hart, who is nothing but a source of inspiration, my friend and mentor Dick Celeste, who came out here and knocked doors for me, my pal James Carville, who I didn’t even know, but he endorsed me — and I don’t think anybody will ever be able to forget his contribution to this campaign.

I’d like to thank everybody here tonight who flew across the country to be with us in the last few days. ...

I’d like to thank Will Kanteres and Meryl Levin. We would have been lost without them, and because of their friendship, and because of their leadership and because of their efforts, we were able to introduce ourselves to the state of New Hampshire. And I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate it and I think we’ve made some lifelong friends.

Speaking of New Hampshire, I love you New Hampshire...whether you knew it or not, we were having a great time together. And I’ve said over and over again how much like Colorado New Hampshire is. It’s a complicated political state. It’s a swing state. It’s a state filled with thoughtful people who take incredibly seriously their responsibilities so seriously that today they were less decided than they were six weeks ago. But they decided tonight.

And tonight is not going to be our night, but let me say this to New Hampshire, you may see me once again.

I really want to say that I appreciate the fact that you gave me a chance here, and you’re giving all the other candidates a chance. I wish all those candidates well that are going beyond New Hampshire.

I think it’s fitting for us to end the campaign tonight. But I want to remind you of why I got in this race, why I stayed in this race, why we have to stay in this fight.

I love our country. I love America. I love the idea of democracy and I want to make sure that our generation passes this democracy intact — at least — if not in better shape, to the next generation of Americans.

And tonight as we stand here we can’t say that we’re in very good shape. Our democracy is at risk. The ability for people to work hard and live a middle-class life in this country is at risk. The opportunity for the kids, the students that I used to work for in the Denver Public Schools and kids just like them all across this country, the opportunity for their parents to get them out of poverty is at risk. America’s place in the world is at risk tonight. And the rest of the world desperately needs our leadership. As all of you know, our planet is at risk today from climate change. These are huge issues that we have to confront.

I’m really proud that together during the course of this campaign, we developed an agenda called the Real Deal that is the most coherent approach to addressing these issues that we’ve seen out of any of the campaigns.

I look forward to carrying that out of New Hampshire and carrying that into the future. What I know about that agenda, because it was written by a team of people who were working very hard to represent a swing state in this country, is that any Democrat in America, from the top of the ticket to the bottom of the ticket, can run on that agenda. I think that’s an agenda that can get us the White House, and as James Carville would say, 55 seats in the Senate. That’s an agenda that’s worth fighting for.

So I feel nothing but joy tonight as we conclude this particular campaign and this particular chapter.

I’m going to do absolutely everything I can do as one human being to make sure Donald Trump is a one-term president. I will support the nominee of my party, no matter who it is, to make sure that we defeat Donald Trump. But we can’t stop there. As I’ve said all across this state, and I’ve said all across the country, it’s not just about who is in the White House — we've got to win a majority in the Senate. And I will campaign all over this country to make sure we win that majority.

I want to finish by saying what I’ve said particularly to college kids in the state.... In 20 or 30 years from now, when people look back at this moment and they consider the fact that some time between now and then, 20 or 30 years from now we got the money out of our politics and put the people back in our politics; we’ve actually began the meaningful work to lead the world in working to address climate change; we rediscovered once again how in this country we can make the economy rise for everybody when it grows, not just for the people at the very top; that we discovered once again how to provide education in this country so we are liberating kids from their economic circumstances, rather than reinforcing the income inequality we have.

When people look back at and ask ‘How did that happen? How did they do it?’ they’re going to look back at this moment. And there’s going to be some college campus somewhere where they decided that every single person on that campus who was eligible to vote would cast their vote. And if universities all over the country looked at that and saw it could be done, then it would set a new standard to be a citizen in this republic. If this country starts to vote at 70 percent, instead of at 50 percent, there is no issue that we won’t be able to address together.

So I want you to be optimistic tonight. You have to be optimistic. This is in our hands. It is in our hands. As James Baldwin wrote during the height of the Civil Rights movement, this is in our hands, we have no right to assume otherwise.

Thank you.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts