U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet's presidential campaign threw open the doors Tuesday night to the Colorado Democrat's national headquarters in Lakewood.
Nearly 100 supporters came to the grand opening of Bennet for America's new digs, on the second floor of a new office building at West Colfax Avenue and Garrison Street.
Former Gov. Bill Ritter, who appointed Bennet to the Senate in 2009, formally endorsed Bennet's White House bid and predicted that Bennet would confound the skeptics the same way he did in 2010, when he was elected to a full term in a Republican wave year.
As a newly minted senator, Ritter recalled, Bennet took office with hardly any statewide name recognition and overcame "headwinds against Democrats" to win a close race in an evenly divided state.
A former Democratic U.S. senator from Colorado who once had his eye on the presidency is throwing his support behind a successor with the same aspirations.
"Michael knows how to build the broad coalition we will need to win purple states like ours and others in 2020," said Ritter, director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. “Michael’s record in the Senate shows us the kind of leader he will be in the White House — one with the intellect, humility and ability to make progress on our most pressing challenges."
It was Bennet's second endorsement from an iconic Colorado Democrat. Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart threw his support behind Bennet on Saturday in New Hampshire, predicting Bennet would upset the primary race just as Hart did in 1984, when the fresh-faced senator from Colorado came from behind to defeat former Vice President Walter Mondale in the state's primary.
Although low polling and fundraising numbers mean Bennet won't be in a nationally televised debate Thursday night in Houston with 10 other primary candidates, his supporters in Lakewood cheered his chances in a contest many insist is still up for grabs, with more than four months to go.
Debate organizers last night made official what Bennet had already acknowledged: He will not be among the 10 candidates invited to the Sept. 12 debate in Houston.
"He is the only person in this race who has won two national elections in a purple state — not on the coasts, not in a place where the politics is easier," said Bennet's wife, Susan Daggett. "He ran in 2010 when the tea party was ascending, Democrats lost everywhere, and he won by defending Obamacare, not running from it. He knows how to win these races ..."
Bennet was polling at only 0.4% support nationally Tuesday, according to the RealClearPolitics average , and he isn't faring better in state polling. A series of CBS News/YouGov polls released Monday found Bennet trailing with 0% support in the first four states on the primary calendar — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
But Daggett told reporters she takes issue with the predictive power of early polling.
"Many, many people in Iowa and New Hampshire have not made up their minds at all, and to the extent they have made up their minds, it's very soft," she said. "Bill Clinton hadn't even announced he was running at this point in the race; Barack Obama was way behind at this point in the race; John Kerry was nowhere; Gary Hart was nowhere. We've been talking to people all over these states, and they're all saying, 'Stay in it; it is too early. People here have not made up their minds.'"
"If we wanted to be the party that excluded people, we'd be Republicans," presidential candidate Michael Bennet said.
But the Democratic National Committee's requirements to qualify for the debates ignores "a whole lot of things that actually matter to voters, and it takes a national view of the campaign instead of an early-state view, which is where the momentum is gained or lost," she said.
Daggett also dismissed speculation that Bennet is staying in the race with an eye toward being the eventual nominee's running mate or perhaps auditioning for a Cabinet post.
Rather, he's working to ensure that an appropriate agenda for the Democratic Party "is broadly shared — that we can beat Donald Trump, and we can take back the Senate and we can keep the House. It's a broad perspective on what we need to do."
Throughout the evening, Bennet staffers sold campaign merchandise and Bennet's new book, "Dividing America: How Russia Hacked Social Media and Democracy." The campaign also was signing up supporters to drive to Iowa for the famous Polk County Steak Fry on Sept. 21, when Democratic presidential candidates try to impress the locals with their organizational prowess.
Democratic officials on hand at Tuesday night's opening included state Rep. Matt Gray of Broomfield, Adams County Commissioner Steve O'Dorisio, former state Sen. Gail Schwartz of Crested Butte, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley of Lakewood, and Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder George Stern, who told Colorado Politics that he's a fan of Bennet but isn't endorsing him because Stern is in charge of counting the votes in one of Colorado's largest counties.