Bennet attacked from left and right – Greeley Tribune

US Senator Michael Bennet stood on the Aurora tarmac on Tuesday, surrounded by fellow Democrats to officially mark the opening of a party office and unofficially herald the start of the general election, and issued a warning.

People are fighting, he said. The economy, when it works, only works for the top 10% of the state, leaving the rest of Colorado residents struggling to find housing, childcare, and education. The struggle is so real, he warned, that it is endangering our democracy.

“Then someone comes along and says I can fix it,” Bennet, who is seeking his third term in the US Senate, said in Aurora. “You don’t need democracy. You don’t need the rule of law. You should reckon that your country is hopelessly corrupt. That happened when Donald Trump was elected.”

It’s a general election message Bennet hammered out Tuesday afternoon before voters named Republican businessman Joe O’Dea as his November opponent. He stayed on until Wednesday when activists from America’s Democratic Socialists confronted him about the US Supreme Court’s abolition of abortion rights: Vote for me again as Democrats navigate the “aftermath” of Trump’s presidency.

Bennet, who was first appointed to the seat in 2009, is not running solely on a post-Trump message. In Colorado Springs, for example, on Wednesday he emphasized his efforts to renew the pandemic-era expanded child tax credit and his desire to promote education as a means of economic mobility.

Joe O'Dea describes helping small businesses, reducing debt and increasing security as his top priorities if elected to the US Senate. He's trying to unseat Senator Michael Bennet in the fall.
Joe O’Dea describes helping small businesses, reducing debt and increasing security as his top priorities if elected to the US Senate. He’s trying to unseat Senator Michael Bennet in the fall.

“For one brief, bright moment, we almost halved child poverty in America and Colorado. We’ve reduced hunger in the United States by almost a quarter,” Bennet said in a brief speech to a lunchtime crowd. “It’s a shame we didn’t extend it and I want to go back to make sure it’s permanent.”

But of his own free will, and by circumstance, the former president — and particularly the Trump-appointed conservative majority on the US Supreme Court — keeps popping up.

Activists are demanding more from the Democrats

When Bennet arrived at the Denver Botanic Gardens on June 24 to have his photograph taken while he voted, he carried with his ballot a labeled copy of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. Bennet was furious, calling it the first time in US history that people had had their rights taken away. He repeated the message a week later.

“Inconceivable,” he said Wednesday in Colorado Springs. “To have taken away from us the first constitutional right we ever lost in America. You want to know how it feels to lose a democracy? That’s how it feels.”

As Bennet finished this midday speech at the event, shouts from a bullhorn caught the attention of the crowd. A handful of members of the local Democratic Socialists of America demanded answers about what he was doing about the decision and implored him and the Democrats to fight the conservative Supreme Court.

“You’re saying the Democrats aren’t doing enough now? How is it possible that we ever allowed Donald Trump to become President of the United States?” Bennet told activists during a six-and-a-half minute walk back and forth with them on the sidelines of the event.

“Because you guys fell asleep at the wheel!” Jacki Othon, co-chair of the Colorado Springs DSA, responded.

Bennet said he was also angry at his Democrats for not doing more to beat Trump at the ballot box in 2016. But filling the courts, he argued, would “make (Republican Senate leader) Mitch McConnell the defender of American institutions” and box boxing prevent Democrats from retaining the majority.

“We will guarantee that the Senate majority will be an anti-choice majority that will ban abortion in this country,” Bennet said. “That’s my take on what you’re proposing.”

Instead, he proposed reforming the filibuster so that it’s not a de facto 60-vote requirement for something even slightly partisan. Instead, Bennet wants to encourage active debate, with each side arguing about the legislation and proposing changes before a majority decides the matter. He is also open to term limits for judges.

Othon said after the interaction she wasn’t reassured.

“It happened under his supervision,” she said. “We’ve had a leak[of abortion opinion]and the Democrats have done nothing to forestall it.”

Democrats have lost support over a lack of action, Othon said. She worries that unless federal action is taken on issues like abortion rights, voter apathy will turn Colorado purple. It was a topic picked up by another DSA member, Maryah Lauer.

“They take no real action and just like to shift the blame to (West Virginia US Sen Joe) Manchin or (Arizona US Sen Kyrsten) Sinema or just continue to shirk their responsibility to perform their constitutional duties,” Lauer said, referring to two Democrats often paused to block the slim majority’s agenda. “I think that’s a great way for them to lose.”

GOP ties Bennet to tough economic times

While those on the left are demanding Bennet take more forceful action against the Supreme Court, those on the right — namely Republican nominee O’Dea and his supporters — are eager to do whatever they can to tie Bennet to the current White House occupant .

Before the primary, Democrats spent millions to buoy O’Dea’s vote-distancing opponent, Rep. Ron Hanks. O’Dea’s supporters and outside observers argued that it was a move straight out of previous political playbooks: meddle in the opposition primary with hopes they’ll nominate someone more easily beaten in the general election.

O’Dea nevertheless won his primary easily by about 10 percentage points. He peppered his Victory Night speech with jabs at the Democrats for spending so much on a Republican race. He also avidly linked Bennet to President Joe Biden and broader economic turmoil.

“There is no doubt that the Colorado Senate race will be a referendum on Joe Biden’s policies and Michael Bennet’s stamp,” O’Dea said during his victory speech. “America is struggling and moving in the wrong direction and Joe Biden is to blame. Michael Bennet was Joe Biden’s wingman at every turn.”

The Republican National Committee, sensing political headwinds for the Democratic Party and knowing that it wasn’t long since Colorado had a Republican in the Senate, echoed O’Dea in shaping the race.

“Michael Bennet is vulnerable because he was a rubber stamp for Joe Biden’s failed agenda that hurt families in Colorado,” RNC spokesman Alex Kuehler said in a statement. “From soaring inflation to record high gas prices and rising crime, Colorado residents are fed up with Democratic policies that have negatively impacted their quality of life and will be voting for Joe O’Dea in November to grab Bennet to send.”

Bennet also remembers when Colorado wasn’t as blue as it is today, both at the state and federal levels. He said he still considers it a purple condition — even as he takes his own shots at O’Dea and accuses him of getting out of mainstream Colorado. He cited the Republican’s stated support for the Supreme Court justices who voted to overthrow Roe vs. Wade and opposition to Colorado law enshrining abortion rights and opposition to more gun laws.

Bennet won his first Senate race by less than 2 percentage points in 2010 and by nearly 6 percentage points in 2016 — when Republicans nominated the more staunch conservative over the relatively more dovish businessman, reversing that cycle. The bipartisan Cook Political Report lists Colorado’s Senate nomination this year as a likely Democrat.

“Whoever gets nominated, we would have a tough race because it’s just a tough cycle,” Bennet said in an interview. “I know what that looks like. 2010 was a tough year, 2014 – when I was chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee – was a tough year. 2016 was a tough year. It’s going to be another tough year.”

– Denver Post reporter Jon Murray contributed to this report. Bennet attacked from left and right – Greeley Tribune

James Brien

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