Mike Bennet out of September debate, but tells Aspen crowd he’s not out of election

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Sen. Michael Bennet spoke publicly Friday at the Pitkin County Library as part of a town hall-style meeting put on by the Pitkin County Democrats. Bennet said he will stay in the presidential race despite not qualifying for the Sept. 12 Democratic debate in Houston.
Rick Carroll | The Aspen Times

Sen. Michael Bennet didn’t qualify for the Democratic presidential debate set Sept. 12 in Houston, but he told an Aspen crowd Friday he will keep campaigning.

“Nobody has made up their minds about any of this stuff in Iowa or in New Hampshire,” Bennet said, speaking of the states’ respective caucus and primary next year on Feb. 3 and Feb. 11. “It’s really true. I’ve done my own polling, I’ve seen the polling and I know what people are saying, which is ‘we don’t know. We haven’t decided.’”

Wearing Levi’s and a blue oxford button-down, Bennet was in Aspen for a town hall-style gathering at Pitkin County Library put on by the Pitkin County Democrats. Roughly 125 people filled the library’s William R. Dunaway Community Meeting Room to hear the Colorado senator speak and answer audience members’ questions.

Bennet, who participated in the first two debates earlier this summer, made his remarks after the Democratic National Committee officially announced Thursday the 10 candidates who qualified for next month’s presidential debate.

Meeting the DNC’s debate criteria are candidates Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey), Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Andrew Yang.

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In order to qualify, candidates had to have at 2% support in at least four qualifying polls, as well as at least 130,000 individual donors.

The same standards, as well as having 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 states, will apply to the October debate.

“I think most people think the DNC shouldn’t be calling these decisions prematurely,” Bennet, 54, said, adding “I find it hard to believe that it should matter whether you’re at 1 (percent) or you’re at 3. It’s interesting to me that there are people who were at 9 who are now at 1 who are now on the debate stage.”

Bennet, who has been polling at 1%, scheduled no fundraisers in Aspen for the weekend, according to his campaign aides.

Even so, the former superintendent of Denver Public Schools made a plea for donations, because more of those is what he’ll need to qualify for the October debate.

“I’m not moaning or groaning to you.” he said. “You can’t change the rules, but what you can do is send a dollar to my campaign or five or 20, $100, whatever you’d like to spend, as a way of helping me get on the stage.”

Next year’s first two primaries will tell the tale, he said.

“My master plan is that I’ve got to do really well in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said. “If I don’t, I’m going to be coming back to Colorado and I’ll run for re-election again and I’ll be glad. … But if I do well in Iowa and New Hampshire — we have no idea what direction this race is going to go — and those are states where my kind of campaigning is the kind of campaigning they expect.”

Bennet emphasized the need for the Democratic party to stay focused on its ideals, defeat President Trump in 2020 and flip the Senate so that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell loses his power.

“I would never want us to be as cynical or as malevolent as Mitch McConnell is,” he said, “because he’s a very cynical and malevolent person, but for God sakes, we have to be as strategic as Mitch McConnell is, and we have not been as strategic as he is in the 10 years that I’ve been on the Senate, whether it’s climate, whether’s it’s guns, or whether it’s voting issues or election protection or courts … and that’s the biggest one.”

Bennet was re-elected to the Senate in 2016. Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to Senate in January 2009 to replace Ken Salazar, who became secretary of the Interior.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), who was in Aspen last weekend, said Wednesday she was exiting the race. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper also dropped out earlier this month before announcing he would be running for Senate on Aug. 22, the same day the Pitkin County Democrats held their annual dinner that included seven candidates seeking the nomination to unseat Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, in 2020.

Other hopefuls for the Democratic nomination who have passed through Aspen this summer have included Biden, Booker and O’Rourke, yet none of their appearances were public.

Gardner also was here in early August for a public event held at Chabad Jewish Community Center.

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