There sat Senator Michael Bennet in the Newseum, no jacket and shirt-sleeves rolled up, chatting about the debt ceiling, the gridblock in Washington and the challenges of creating change. And the audience, a combo of Democrat and Republican voters, was eating it up. So was the host of the chat, which was broadcast on... Fox News? And not only on Fox, but Hannity?
Bennet, the unexpected star of the July 15 installment of Sean Hannity's show, was too busy yesterday wrangling support for the Gang of Six to bask in the success of his appearance, but the senator's office recognized the accomplishment. "It was awesome," says spokesman Michael Amodeo.
Bennet was invited to join the lineup because Frank Luntz, a pollster who's a regular on Fox, had pulled together a focus group to rate the speeches of assorted politicians, all Republicans... except for Bennet. "He wanted to get a sense of how Michael Bennet's message would be received and perceived by an evenly divided group," says Amodeo.
And how had Bennet gotten on Luntz's radar? One of his 2010 commercials had been the single-best campaign ad by an incumbent, Luntz told the group, "language perfection." And he played it for them -- to great applause -- before Bennet started speaking.
Here's the clip.
The audience didn't just love the ad; they loved just about everything Bennet said -- and he scored equally well with Democrats and Republicans. "Michael's message appeals to both parties," Amodeo points out. "People actually see him as a breath of fresh air in a place that's extremely politically divided."
That's Washington, not Fox News.
Here's the transcript of that July 15 segment:
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: And welcome back to the special edition of "Hannity." As we go back to our own Frank Luntz in Washington with his special focus group of American voters as they come face-to-face with a freshman Democratic senator.
FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER: You've heard from the Republicans. Now it is time for a Democratic response. But before I go to Senator Bennet, I want you to see the single best pro-incumbent ad of 2010, this is language perfection. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET, D-COLO: I've been in Washington for only a year. But it didn't take that long to see the whole place is broken. It is time to give them a wake-up call. That's why I'm for freezing congressional pay until we get our economy back on track. I think senators and congressmen should lose their own health insurance until they can stop insurance company abuses. And I would ban members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists. I'm Michael Bennett and I approved this message because I'm listening to Colorado.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LUNTZ: What did you think of that ad?
Give me reaction to that ad.
BOBBY: He sounded like an American. And not some politician.
LUNTZ: What did you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He gave concrete examples of what he would do. He would freeze Congress' pay. You know, the health insurance for everybody. Those were concrete examples that I could look forward to.
LUNTZ: What did you think?
RICH: He came down from the ivory tower, he was a normal American. And he didn't come up here and be an elitist.
LUNTZ: One word.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Family first.
LUNTZ: Really positive. So, let me ask you. Now you've been here another six, seven months. A year since you ran that ad. The place is a mess. What are you doing about it?
BENNET: Well, the place is a mess. And the place is an absolute mess. And it is designed really in its own interests, for its own interests. It is not working well for the American people. And, you know, from my point of view, from the state with a third Democrats, third Republicans and a third Independents, what I've heard people say on the debt and deficit for example is that they want a solution that materially addresses the problem. They want to know that we are all in it together. They want to emphatically know that it is bipartisan, because nobody believes in either party's go it alone approach. And I would simply add to that that the corollary that the capital markets need to know that their paper is worth what it is worth.
LUNTZ: You guys agree?
FOCUS GROUP: Yes!
Keep going. Everyone at 50 please.
BENNET: And in this town, in Washington, D.C., it looks like I hope this isn't true, that we're in danger of not being able to get to that common sense result. Because people here actually don't believe that compromise on these things is a good thing. They are into the conflict. People at home, once you get past the talking points, aren't interested in the conflict because they are deeply worried about the future that we are leaving to our kids and our grandkids.
LUNTZ: Go ahead.
RICH: Senator, don't you believe though that a lot of the heated debate we have right now is because of the health care? When the Democrats had control of all the Senate and the House and the presidency, kind of shoved that down the American people's throats, and though they didn't want it. And now, there is something coming up where they won and now they want compromise.
LUNTZ: Everyone at 50?
BENNET: I think that you are right. I think that people saw that as a partisan effort. It wasn't bipartisan. I think that a lot of reason it was so partisan is because of the way Washington works. Because I think a number of the issues they were dealing with, they're issues that, in that context, in that health care context, are issues that both Republicans and Democrats over many years have supported.
But Washington has a way of making it more partisan. And then look what happened, I mean, I ran in the general election this time, saying my opponent supported what was then called the Ryan road map. And that only eight or 10 other congressmen supported that. No senators at that time supported it. And then the first thing that happens is, you know, when the House changes, it's passed. So, I think both parties have this way of lurching back and forth to respond to their basis, and they're not actually solving problems.
LUNTZ: So, do this, start right here. What message would you want to send to Washington if you could?
MILINDA: Well, I mean, I come from a family, gold star family. My brother was killed in Afghanistan. For me, don't forget us. I mean, my father, he fought. This issue is very important. So, just keep us in mine. Don't forget the real people, once you are elected in office, just remember us.
BENNET: Well, let me say first of all, I'm very sorry for your loss. But, it is a perfect example of what we're not talking about in this town. I was on the floor of the Senate today. And I said look, think about it in different terms. Think about it this way. We've been fighting two wars over the last 10 years. We cut taxes. We haven't found money to spend -- any way to pay for the wars. So, our only theory is to continue borrowing money from the Chinese and other folks to pay for the wars. We are sending our young men and women overseas, who are making a sacrifice that's unimaginable, to me. I know you've had to live with it. The least we could do is have a grown-up conversation about how we are going to deal with this debt and how we are going to pay for the wars.
LUNTZ: Your reaction?
DALE: That sounds good. But how do you deal with the debt ceiling at this point? That is something that is near and dear to all of us. Senator McConnell just came out with a statement about giving control back to Obama. How do you feel about that?
BENNET: Another way of saying that is by putting all of the responsibility in one place. I think everybody here that is paid a taxpayer's salary ought to be responsible for figuring out how to fix this problem.
LUNTZ: Do you agree?
FOCUS GROUP: Yes.
LUNTZ: Senator, you only have 15 seconds.
BENNET: What I would say in the last 15 seconds is that, you know, there's been a lot of talk about what the founders said. One of the things the founders said was we shouldn't drive up our interest rates during wartime. I was on the floor today talking about that. And they are right about that. We've got to come together as Americans and address these problems. Not just debt and deficit but all the other issues that we face.
LUNTZ: You guys agree?
BENNET: Thank you, Frank. Thanks for having me.