At 6 p.m. tonight, September 12, ABC and Univision will air the third Democratic presidential debate, slated to take place at Texas Southern University's Health & PE Center in Houston. But nobody from Colorado will have a microphone.
Former governor John Hickenlooper abandoned his quest for the White House last month in order to enter the U.S. Senate race against imperiled Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. And U.S. Senator Michael Bennet wasn't invited, owing to his failure to meet the criteria for participation, a formula that includes polling data and number of unique donors. But he hasn't taken the hint, and is still officially in the race despite being left in the dust.
Should he hang up his track shoes? Absolutely — and there are plenty of reasons why.
Start with these ten.
1. The best scenario for a Bennet victory involves the death of every other candidate
At this writing, there are twenty Democrats aiming for the presidency, and Bennet is first by only one metric: the alphabet.
Half of the candidates failed to meet the threshold for tonight's debate, which will spotlight former veep Joe Biden, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, ex-U.S. Housing secretary Julián Castro, California Senator Kamala Harris, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas rep Beto O'Rourke, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Mega-rich guy Tom Steyers has already qualified for the next debate, expected to take place on October 15 in Ohio, with Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard insisting she's on the cusp of doing so.
That puts Bennet among the lower batch of candidates in the embarrassing lower tier — and it's not a good look for him to be among those bitching about the standards set for debate qualification. The New York Times, which noted that Bennet is "not particularly close to qualifying," quoted him as saying, "We’re rewarding celebrity candidates with millions of Twitter followers, billionaires who buy their way onto the debate stage and candidates who have been running for president for years. These rules have created exactly the wrong outcomes, and they will not help us beat Donald Trump."
Still, even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, among the loudest of the also-rans, admitted that it would be "tough to conceive" of remaining in the race if he didn't make the October debate stage. Unless all Bennet's rivals come down with the Andromeda Strain, the situation is the same for him.
2. His only chances are in Iowa and Nevada — and he has no chance in Iowa and Nevada
Of the early caucus and primary states, Iowa and Nevada provide Bennet at least a modicum of hope from a geographical standpoint. But in the latest RealClear Politics compendium of polling data from the two states, he doesn't so much as register in either the former or the latter. Even fellow no-hopers such as Ohio Representative Tim Ryan and onetime Maryland Congressman John Delaney do better.
3. An out-of-the-blue candidate hasn't won the nomination in nearly a half-century...
How long will obscure presidential hopefuls continue to point to the left-field success of former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter in 1976? As long as there are obscure presidential hopefuls. But that happened 43 years ago, during a completely different era of American politics, and it involved some very specific circumstances: Carter's opponent was Gerald Ford, who hadn't even been elected vice president and stoked the anger of many voters by pardoning his predecessor, President Richard Nixon, to prevent his prosecution for the Watergate scandal.
Granted, critics of President Donald Trump see plenty of parallels between him and Nixon, but it's mighty tough to envision The Donald quitting. Odds are strong that if he loses in 2020, he'll have to be dragged from the Oval Office by his ankles as he desperately tries to hang on to a leg of his desk.
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.
Some prognosticators try to portray President Barack Obama's rise to commander-in-chief in a similar light. But in June 2007, he was already polling at 21 percent among Democrats. Compare that to a recent Morning Consult name-recognition survey showing that only 20 percent of respondents know that Bennet exists.
5. He can stop throwing good money after bad
The next major report for presidential donations, covering the third quarter of 2019, won't come out until October. But during the last one, in June, Bennet's minions revealed that he'd sucked up $2.8 million for his presidential bid since announcing in May, and added another $700,000 from his Senate campaign. But if that sounds like a helluva haul, it's actually a pittance compared with the $24.8 million Buttigieg collected during the same period, or even the $18 million registered by Sanders, not counting a $6 million transfer from his own earlier campaign committees.
6. Bennet has already maxed out on positive exposure
Cable-news purveyors are notoriously desperate for content, which helps explain why Bennet continues to be booked on the likes of CBS and MSNBC. On such programs, he's consistently acquitted himself well and been treated as a serious person by his interrogators. But these appearances aren't translating to greater popularity where it matters, and he hardly needs more face time if he wants a different kind of Washington, D.C., gig.
7. He's already a lock for a cabinet post if he wants one...
Should any Democrat be elected president in November 2020, Bennet will be choice number one as Secretary of Education given his position last decade as superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Period.
It would be premature for Bennet to talk publicly about such a possibility, since it would imply that he's already looking for an exit plan — which explains why he hasn't done so. But one theory about the reason ex-state senator Mike Johnston withdrew from the 2020 U.S. Senate race despite having by far the largest war chest of anybody who's not Bennet's good buddy Hick pivots on this prospect. Recall that Bennet was appointed to the Senate in 2009 after Obama named Colorado Senator Ken Salazar his Interior secretary. Would anybody be surprised if Johnston dropped out after being promised he would be chosen to fill Bennet's seat should history repeat? Answer: No.
8. ...and if he doesn't, he can become much more powerful in the Senate
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
Earlier this month, Hart, now 82, gave Bennet his blessing, and at the opening of his national headquarters this week, former Colorado governor and fellow endorser Bill Ritter was one of the two main speakers; the other was Susan Daggett, an environmental defense attorney and law professor who also happens to be Bennet's wife. Which is all well and good — but Bennet isn't running to become the president of Colorado.
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10. The longer he stays in, the more diminished he'll become
When it became clear they wouldn't make the grade for tonight's debate, Hick, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand all determined that enough was enough, in part because they wanted to keep their reputation intact and unbesmirched, as opposed to being seen as sadly deluded egomaniacs. But not Bennet, who's currently registering at 0.7 percent in RealClear Politics' general Democratic poll. As such, he's ahead of only Ryan, de Blasio and author Marianne Williamson (0.5), Delaney (0.4), Montana Governor Tom Bullock (0.3), and former Pennsylvania representative Joe Sestak and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam (zip).
That means he's behind the acknowledged front-runners, as well as Steyer and Klobuchar — and he's less than one-fourth as popular as Yang, whose campaign got a boost this weekend when he tweeted that he hates the New England Patriots.
If that hasn't convinced Bennet the time to stop is now, perhaps what happens at tonight's debate will.