Bennet ends 2020 bid after poor showing in New Hampshire

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., right, accompanied by James Carville, a political commentator known for leading former President Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, second from right, speaks to members of the media before a campaign stop at the Spotlight Room at the Palace, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Manchester, N.H.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet ended his long-shot presidential bid Tuesday, failing to break out of a crowded Democratic field dominated by other moderate candidates.

Bennet, 55, was a late entrant to the race who staked his bid in recent months on trying to win New Hampshire. He only formally announced his candidacy in late April, after completing treatment for prostate cancer. He was the seventh senator and second white Colorado moderate to join the field, which made it difficult for him to stand out.

Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire’s presidential primary election Tuesday night, narrowly edging moderate rival Pete Buttigieg and scoring the first clear victory in the Democratic Party’s chaotic 2020 nomination fight.

Bennet dropped out of the race shortly after entrepreneur Andrew Yang announced his own departure Tuesday night, bringing the Democratic presidential field to single digits.

"I think it's fitting for us to end the campaign tonight," Bennet told a crowd of supporters in Concord, less than an hour after polls closed.

"I really want to say that I appreciate the fact that you gave me a chance here, and you're giving all the other candidates a chance. I wish all those candidates well that are going beyond New Hampshire," Bennet said, standing next to his wife, Susan Daggett, and their three daughters.

After ending his campaign, Bennet said in a tweet: "I love our country. I love the idea of democracy. And I want to pass it on to the next generation. I feel nothing but joy tonight as we conclude this campaign and this chapter. Tonight wasn’t our night. But New Hampshire, you may see me once again."

The former Denver Public Schools superintendent ran on a centrist platform and made a point of bucking the trend among some candidates for splashy, liberal proposals.

Instead of embracing the extravagant proposals made by other primary candidates, Bennet ran on what he called his "Real Deal" platform of more modest but still ambitious goals. Those included annual payments of at least $3,000 to families with children under age 18, allowing people to buy into an expanded form of Medicare and a $1 trillion housing affordability plan.

Since last summer, Bennet urged his fellow candidates to reject positions that risked turning off voters in crucial battleground states, including big-ticket promises such as "Medicare for All" and free college, promises he maintained would distract the country from tackling more attainable goals.

“I don't blame myself for the carelessness that elected Donald Trump the first time, but I will blame myself if he wins again,” he said at a town hall during a stop in Colorado in November. “We need to do more than offer empty promises that further disillusion the American people.”

But while his articulate and passionate centrism won plaudits from pundits and experienced Democratic professionals, Bennet struggled to register in the polls and he hovered in the bottom tier of the field even as he campaigned more in New Hampshire than other candidates, with 50 town halls in the final 10 weeks. After July, Bennet never polled high enough or raised enough money to qualify for the debate stage again.

Bennet rocketed to national attention just over a year ago when a 24-minute video tearing into Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the Senate floor went viral, sparking encouragement for Bennet to throw his hat into a primary field that at the time topped 20 Democrats.

The main obstacle to Bennet for most of last year was Biden, who as the moderate with establishment backing took up the space that the Colorado senator's campaign was counting on. Bennet's late entry also hobbled him. Because of his cancer diagnosis, he had to delay his candidacy, and he barely qualified for the first presidential debate.

Bennet quickly began pushing back against the Democratic National Committee's increasingly stringent debate qualification rules, complaining it was an unfair advantage for the staples of cable television who had been campaigning months, or even years, earlier.

In the end he staked his bet on the path blazed by his political mentor, former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, who scored a surprise win in New Hampshire in the 1984 Democratic presidential primary and almost won the nomination. Bennet put all his chips on a breakout finish in New Hampshire during the final weeks of the campaign and spent almost every spare moment there.

Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, who engineered Bill Clinton's come-from-behind finish in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, touted Bennet as the ideal nominee and in January endorsed the Coloradan. Carville accompanied Bennet in New Hampshire in the final days before the primary, appearing on cable news programs and at a rally where he declared Bennet would lead the Democrats to a historic win in November.

But voters weren't listening. In early, unofficial returns, Bennet trailed the field, placing 10th with a share of the vote similar to his longstanding polling average, a fraction of a percentage point.

Bennet said in early January that he would have to finish in the top three in New Hampshire in order to keep his campaign alive, and until polls closed maintained an optimism buoyed by polls that showed a majority of the state's voters had yet to commit firmly to a candidate.

Campaigning on a shoestring, the western senator out-lasted three other senators — New York's Kristen Gillibrand, California's Kamala Harris and New Jersey's Cory Booker — and three other prominent westerners — former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — in a bid to sway voters avid for a candidate to take on President Donald Trump.

Calling himself "the opposite of Trump" in a campaign ad and in stump speeches in New Hampshire living rooms and coffee houses, Bennet argued that his unique record among the Democratic candidates — winning two federal elections in a swing state — deserved more of a look from voters than polls indicated he was getting.

In August, Bennet tweeted a sentiment that summed up his argument: "If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for 2 weeks at a time. I’ll do my job watching out for North Korea and ending this trade war. So you can go raise your kids and live your lives."

Bennet raised just $6.8 million through Dec. 31, a sum dwarfed by the $109 million raked in by frontrunner Bernie Sanders, the $82 million raised by Elizabeth Warren, the $76.7 million raised by Pete Buttigieg and the $61 million raised by Joe Biden through the same period.

Self-funders Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer reported $206 million and $200 million in receipts through the end of the year, respectively.

Acknowledging that her father's candidacy was "the ultimate long-shot," Bennet's daughter Caroline wrote in an opinion article published Monday that she had just begun pitching her father to a voter the previous weekend when he called.

Putting him on the phone's speaker, she said she asked him to tell an undecided voter why he deserved her vote.

“Ma’am,” she recalled her father saying, “You should vote for me because of how well my wife and I raised our daughter.”

"No matter the results," Caroline Bennet wrote, "as long as we are doing what is right and true, we can never lose."

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