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The Importance of Being Michael Bennet

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I didn't vote for Bennet in the primary. I was a Romanoff guy. I wasn't completely on board with Ritter's pick to replace Ken Salazar--Bennet ruffled a few feathers around these parts when he was the superintendent of Denver Public Schools. But none of that matters now: Michael Bennet has to beat Ken Buck.

A new Fox News/Pulse Research poll has Buck leading Bennet in the Senate race by about 4% with 5% undecided. The polls are breaking Bennet's way; he needs to keep the momentum going. The in-state picture is obviously important, but the race become even more vital to Democrats and the President when viewed on a national scale.

Just today, Nate Silver--he of FiveThirtyEight fame who predicted the Presidential outcome by a freakishly close margin and now operates his blog as a part of The New York Times--reported that the Republicans are putting Connecticut and West Virginia into play. If the idea of Christine O'Donnell as a United States Senator isn't scary enough, then how about Linda McMahon?

Taking a look at Silver's map of the U.S., Colorado is just one of seven "toss-up states." (Florida and Alaska don't really look to be in play for Democrats because of strong Independent candidates and it's a good bet the predictably finicky New Hampshire votes against the White House tide.) Add Connecticut and you've got eight. Whatever the small number, Bennet vs. Buck is extremely important to both parties.

So, what's at stake? Obviously, the Democrats are not going to have their current 59-seat majority (when counting Lieberman and Sanders). But they need to hold onto whatever slim majority they can. Why? It's not as though Republicans have shown any signs of compromise since Obama was elected. True, but--and I realize this is, perhaps, hopelessly optimistic--once the overwhelming Democratic majority vanishes, Republicans will have to do something. The nihilism has to end and, if it doesn't, then they'll pay in 2012. With some sort of legislative exertion from both sides, it'd be nice to have the largest majority possible to pass Obama Administration--which, hopefully, takes some cues from the Gingrich-era Clinton Administration--policy.

On a more pessimistic note, the ideological differences between Bennet and Buck are considerable. First off all, the 527 group ads against Bennet--which have become grossly disproportionate following the Supreme Court's foolish campaign finance decision--have totaled $4 million. (As an aside, an alarming New Yorker article last week on Stephen Breyer demonstrates how much we need Democratic Senators for possible Obama Justice appointments in the case of a retirement. Come on, Thomas, that RV looks like a mighty comfortable twilight ride.) One ad (not Karl Rove's) portrays Bennet as a Washington insider. (As the ad glosses over, he's been in the Senate for a year and a half.) How can advertisements from outside corporations to the tune of $4 million turn around and call Bennet a big spending Washingtonian? That, and he's seemingly just as frustrated with Washington as anybody else. In an Evan Bayh-level rant in George Packer's scathing look at the current Senate, Bennet says, "Sit and watch us for seven days--just watch the floor. You know what you'll see happening? Nothing."

Buck wants to repeal the landmark health care legislation before it even has a chance to fully go into action. Confusingly (and indecisively), he isn't taking a stand on Amendment 62. His thoughts on education, though, are perhaps the most troubling. Bennet has probably unfairly portrayed Buck as wishing away with the entire Department of Education. Buck hasn't said that outright, but he, as the Tea Party's chosen candidate, has taken an confusingly anachronistic stance on a decentralized educational system. Whatever foot may be in his mouth, this much is clear: A complete revamp of the American educational system would be a very, very bad idea. Take a deep breath; our schools are pretty good.

This is all a long way of saying that electing Ken Buck to the Senate would be a statement to the rest of the county on behalf of Colorado: Put us back in the red, progress has no place here.