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Facing uphill climb for nomination, Bennet plants flag in N.H.

  • U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet speaks to potential voters at a café in Salem on Friday. It was the first of 50 town halls the senator’s pledged to hold between now and the state’s February primary. By Paul Steinhauser—For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 12/6/2019 4:33:36 PM
Modified: 12/6/2019 4:33:23 PM

Long-shot Democratic White House candidate Sen. Michael Bennet says he’s going all-in on the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state.

“I think a lot of my time is now going to be devoted to New Hampshire,” the senator from Colorado told the Monitor in an interview on Friday.

Bennet said he is emphasizing New Hampshire instead of Iowa, which kicks off the presidential primary and caucus nominating calendar eight days before the Granite State votes, because of the Granite State’s smaller size and similarities to his home state.

“It’s a little less crowded. It reminds me a lot of Colorado. It’s a third Republican, a third Democratic, a third independent, which is what Colorado is like. And I think I can get to one end of it to another over and over again, which is why I’ve committed to do 50 town halls between now and the primary,” he explained.

He wouldn’t say exactly where he hopes to finish in the primary.

“I’ve got to do well here and I hope to do well here,” he said.

His campaign told the Monitor they’re currently adding to the staff they already have in New Hampshire, and they intend to open two more campaign offices, bringing to three the number they have in the state. But the campaign added that they’re not abandoning Iowa – where they say they have around 20 staffers.

Bennet was interviewed after addressing and taking questions from Democrats gathered at a café in Salem. His campaign said that was the first of the 50 town halls the senator’s pledged to hold between now and the state’s February 11 presidential primary. It was also the first stop in a five-day swing that would twice take him through Concord, including a meet and greet at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at the home of longtime Democratic activists Gerri and Ron King.

Bennet jumped into the race on May 2, after many of his rivals had already declared their candidacies. His campaign launch was delayed after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery. But after announcing a clean bill of health in mid-April, Bennet moved forward with his White House bid.

He qualified for the first two Democratic presidential debates, held in June and July, but has failed to make the stage since those early showdowns – as he’s fallen short of the polling and fundraising thresholds.

“The debates I don’t think have done very much for the Democratic Party,” Bennet said to the crowd in Salem. “I think they’ve sort of played into Donald Trump’s hands. I can see why it’s entertaining and part of what we do but it shouldn’t be the central way we conduct this election.”

He took aim at the top tier contenders for the nomination.

“We’ve got a problem on our hands because I think people are deeply unconvinced that the leading candidates in this race can beat Donald Trump,” he said. “And that’s the number one issue for people.”

One of those candidates is South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Bennet highlighted in his interview that “I think I’m far more experienced than he is.”

Bennet served as superintendent of the Denver public school system before heading to the Senate in 2009.

“Like Pete, I got my start at the local level. But my school district had a budget three times the size of his city and since that time I’ve spent ten years in the Senate, which is enough time to learn how to get some things done, but why the biggest things don’t get done in Washington. I think it’s just a very different set of experiences.”

Minutes earlier, asked by the crowd how he can compete with the candidates with better name recognition and bigger campaign cash war chests, Bennet pointed to New Hampshire’s tradition of late-deciding voters.

“Look, you guys are just starting to make up your minds here in New Hampshire, to say nothing of the rest of the country,” he noted.

That tradition is reflected in the latest polls in the state’s Democratic presidential primary, which point to a high percentage of undecided voters – or voters who are backing a candidate but saying they could change their minds by primary day.

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