U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet became the second Colorado Democrat running for president Thursday, pitching his experience in business and as a schools superintendent as the antidote to a broken political system.
Bennet joins at least 21 Democrats running for the chance to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Bennet's one-time boss, who threw his hat in the field in early March.
Bennet was announcing his bid during an appearance on "CBS This Morning."
"I think this country faces two enormous challenges," told CBS's John Dickerson. "One is a lack of economic mobility and opportunity for most Americans, and the other is the need to restore integrity to our government. I think we need to do both of those things."
Bennet said his "tendency to tell the truth to the people I represent" is one thing that distinguishes him in the large primary field. He also pointed to winning tough races in a battleground state and a track record of bipartisan accomplishments.
"Michael is running for president to build opportunity for every American and restore integrity to our government. He has the experience, political record, and temperament to lead our country," the Bennet campaign said in a media statement Thursday morning.
Republicans greeted news of Bennet's candidacy with derision.
“Michael Bennet is just another tax-and-spend liberal with no chance of becoming president," Republican National Committee spokeperson Michael Ahrens said in an email. "Bennet hasn't gotten anything done after more than a decade in the Senate, and unfortunately for him, the ‘unknown, no-accomplishments lane’ of the Democratic primary is already full.”
The 54-year-old Bennet in mid-April underwent prostate cancer surgery that was termed "completely successful" by his doctors — and planned to kick off his presidential campaign as soon he regained his strength, an aide told Colorado Politics two weeks ago.
“The work we have in front of us to restore a politics that is worthy of our kids and grandkids has never been more important,” Bennet said in a statement announcing his cancer diagnosis.
"This unanticipated hurdle only reinforces how strongly I feel about contributing to the larger conversation about the future of our country, and I am even more committed to drive that conversation in a positive direction.”
Bennet rocketed into the national spotlight in January when a video of his remarks on the Senate floor attacking Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for his "crocodile tears" during the partial government shutdown drew millions of views online, sparking calls for a White House run.
Bennet was appointed to the Senate in 2009 by then-Gov. Bill Ritter and won his first full term the next year in a close race against Republican Ken Buck. He was re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2016 over Republican Darryl Glenn, setting a record that still stands for the most votes received by a candidate in Colorado.
In the Senate, Bennet has made a name for himself as a pragmatist who can bring opponents together, including as a member of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group behind comprehensive immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate but died in the Republican-controlled House.
Bennet and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine are sponsors of Medicare X, a plan to expand health care coverage by creating a public option for health insurance. Last year, he authored legislation aimed at curbing the influence of lobbyists in an effort to "dismantle pay-to-play politics."
His candidacy comes as no surprise. Bennet began floating a possible 2020 bid last fall and has made swings through Iowa and New Hampshire in recent months.
The Bennet campaign briefly ran a series of Facebook ads on Tuesday aimed at securing the thousands of donors required to land a spot on stage next month in the first Democratic primary debates.
"It’s not enough to win the next election — we need to win the next century," read one ad. "Michael is running for President to create a future that works for ALL Americans."
The ad was targeted at a mostly older audience in 28 states — not including Colorado — and was viewed by fewer than 1,000 people, an internal Facebook report said.
By early Wednesday a fundraising page for his presidential campaign was live, urging prospective donors to "chip in to help Michael get to the debate stage."
"Michael knows we need ambitious solutions to our country’s greatest challenges, and he has the experience, political record and temperament to beat Trump in 2020," said the Act Blue page.
In order to qualify for one of 20 available spots on stage in Miami at the Democrats' first debates in June, Bennet will have to pull in contributions from 65,000 individual donors or receive at least 1% support in three presidential primary polls that meet standards set by the Democratic National Committee.
The FiveThirtyEight political blog determined in mid-April that 15 candidates have already qualified for the debates by at least one method — including Hickenlooper, whose polling gets him there — and six of them have satisfied both criteria.
Bennet scored 1% support in a poll of Iowa voters released in early March but has ranked at the bottom of a long list of Democratic candidates in recent national polls.
The DNC has said that if more than 20 candidates qualify by one method, then candidates who meet both thresholds will have priority.