Michael Bennet is heartened that his long-shot presidential candidacy appears to have injected a dose of reality into the Democratic primary debate and believes his nine-month campaign, which never broke into the crowded field's upper ranks, will improve his ability to represent Colorado in the U.S. Senate, an institution he describes as broken.
The day after ending his campaign following a disappointing finish in the New Hampshire primary, Bennet said he's looking forward to spending time with his family and is considering making an endorsement in the race.
And he's asking his staff to schedule town halls in Colorado during next week's Senate recess.
But first, he's got a lot of laundry to catch up on.
Bennet spoke by phone with Colorado Politics Wednesday evening after returning from New Hampshire to Washington, D.C., for Senate votes.
Bennet pointed to an article by Vox correspondent Dylan Matthews that described his impact on the primary as pervasive, predicting that "Whoever the next president is, the odds are their eventual policy record may look more like Bennet’s platform than their own."
"That's what I was trying to do with the 'Real Deal,' " Bennet said, referring to a sweeping package that included an annual tax credit aimed at slashing child poverty, expanding Medicare with a public option and driving $10 trillion in investments to combat climate change.
"What I wanted to do was present a progressive agenda that any Democrat could run on in any race in America, from the top to the bottom," Bennet said.
"Because of my understanding that we can't just win the White House, but we have to win the Senate as well, and someday we might actually be able to have a functioning Senate again where Democrats and Republicans work together on policy, I think I've picked a bunch of things here that, if we ever have a functional Senate again, will be of interest."
Bennet said he was encouraged to hear echoes of many of his ideas and his approach in recent primary debates, even though the Democratic National Committee's rules prevented him from sharing a debate stage with the other candidates since last summer.
During the primary, Bennet made a case for legislation he's written to establish a public option for health insurance, while opposing calls by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others to institute the single-payer, Medicare for All system, arguing Democrats will waste valuable time failing to enact a proposal that won't pass.
"I also believe that the debate moved on health care as a result of our campaign," he said. "Last cycle, 40 Democrats flipped seats in the House and gave Democrats the majority in the House. Thirty-nine of 40 ran on a public option. The guy that is the sponsor of Medicare X in the House" — New York Rep. Antonio Delgado — "is one of those people, in an upstate district in New York that had been Republican, and they ran on offense on the public option.
"We can do that again this time, because Donald Trump is the first president to take insurance away from millions of Americans," he said. "What we shouldn't do is run on Medicare for All, which is going to put us on defense. I think more and more and more as we went along, I think people came around to the positions I was espousing last summer. Not everyone."
Bennet conceded that he hasn't seen any evidence that Sanders, the current front-runner for the nomination, has moved toward Bennet's more moderate positions.
An automatic delegate to the Democratic National Convention by virtue of his office, Bennet said he hasn't decided whether he'll make an endorsement in the primary but is thinking about it.
"I'm going to take some time — do my laundry, see my family and begin to travel the state of Colorado again," he said.
Bennet called the chance to spend so much time on the campaign trail with his wife, environmental attorney Susan Daggett, and their three daughters "the greatest part of the whole experience."
"The kids were 9, 7 and 4 when I started this journey 11 years ago. It's a strange thing to say, but it's become a family enterprise. It was great to have the girls and Susan in Iowa and New Hampshire," he said. "That was great, because it was a way of keeping me company, and they did a phenomenal job. Susan was great on the stump, and Caroline wrote a really beautiful op-ed piece in the Manchester newspaper that, I think, expressed more completely my views of the world than anything I've said in the campaign.
"Their willingness to be able to be there every step of the way really, really was gratifying. And to see the girls mature even more as people with their own voices, with their own hopes for the country, gives me hope for the country."
He'll be in Colorado next week during the congressional recess.
"I have not yet met with the schedulers, but I think that the plan is to do some town halls back home next week. I am really looking forward to it."
Discussing the impact his run will have on his work in the Senate, Bennet returned to a theme he's hammered since before entering the presidential race.
"Our government is broken right now; it actually was broken before Donald Trump got here. To give one example — I said this in my speech the other day on impeachment — we had 26 votes on amendments last year, 26 votes, and eight amendments passed. This is in the world's greatest deliberative body," he said, exasperated.
"We have become largely an employment agency, is what I said, because we have one vote after another on judges, one vote after another on administrative appointments, but no votes on the things the people really care about in this country. We have to change that. I think we need to change that by mobilizing the American people in a constituency for change in this country. That's what I tried to do in my campaign, and I think the reason it helps Colorado is that Colorado is hurt by lousy politics in Washington.
"Broken politics in Washington hurts Colorado. The fact that we can't get, or so far we haven't been able to get the CORE Act, for example, past the Senate, even though it's passed the House, is a pretty big example of a political system that's not working very well," Bennet said, referencing a wilderness bill that has been idling in the Senate.
Added Bennet: "I think it's going to pay dividends over time, the work. The national exposure has been useful. Having more of a national profile — I had none before I started this — I think can help the state."