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Malcom Glenn

Malcom Glenn

Posted: September 18, 2009 11:58 AM

POTUS Knows Best: Why Obama Was Right to Endorse Bennet (and Why It Shouldn't Be a Surprise)

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Progressives in Colorado are a long way away from their jubilation of a year ago. On the heels of attaining a solidified Congressional majority, Colorado Democrats also claimed two Senators in Washington, one of whom was even tapped to serve in the new administration -- an administration that Coloradans chose in numbers not seen for a Democrat here since 1964.

The popular senator the state's progressives loved is now their president, and while his signature issue is struggling to find traction in institutions controlled by moderates with an eye on wild-eyed constituents back home, it's still the best chance for comprehensive health care reform since those Democratic glory days of the mid-60s (after all, President Johnson did win 61 percent of the vote in his lone foray before the voters of Colorado).

So, considering 40 years of a GOP stranglehold on Colorado presidential picks, things are going well for the state's Democrats. So why does everyone seem to be looking for a fight?

Appointed Senator Michael Bennet has (finally) found his groove on the campaign trail, coming down hard on stances (yes to a commonsense, if ill-fated public option), establishing some serious fundraising bona-fides ($1.2 million in second-quarter donations alone), and -- most importantly -- bringing with him an assortment of exposure that will ultimately make him far more attractive statewide come next year.

Now that both the president and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have endorsed Bennet, backers of former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff are up in arms as they see dreams of a contested primary -- and a more pronounced move by both candidates to the left--drifting away.

Romanoff was an early choice for progressives following former Senator Ken Salazar's appointment as Interior Secretary last year, and the disappointment was palpable when the low-profile former school superintendent got the head-scratching nod from Governor Bill Ritter.

But what's there to love on the left from Romanoff? Idealists make up the base in Denver's Democratic political circles, but is a career politician really the man the state's progressives think can be their biggest champion?

Isn't there something to be said about a diversity of experience -- the experience of someone who has lived abroad, who showed creative acumen and early leadership by leading his law journal at one of the world's most prestigious universities? A man who was deeply involved the micro decision-making process in the same small, urban communities that need the most attention when he gets to Washington?

I could just as well be describing President Obama, whose strikingly similar background was a prime talking point for progressives who caucused for him by a two-to-one margin over Hillary Clinton last year.

Is a comparable narrative less of a draw for Bennet? If so, it shouldn't be, especially if we're to extend comparisons with last year's presidential run even further. While Bennet lacks the political experience of Romanoff, Colorado Democrats would be smart to consider what they valued a year ago (a fresh take on politics highlighted largely by work done outside the sphere), as well as what they shunned (a status quo candidate whose extensive experience has made them raw to the idealism necessary for great change).

The route that Bennet took to Washington was, admittedly, an undemocratic one, and voters will thankfully have the final say in this matter. But the senator shouldn't be punished by a process that, while unjust in its means, has produced a man well-suited in the end. His remarkable effort to reach Coloradans in recent months and his aversion to naked personal ambition are a bright spot in an otherwise dull statewide political scene.

An equally dull Republican field and a favorite of the left are no reason to withhold support for a man who has the chops for the job -- many of the same chops that we valued so deeply in picking the guy for the world's most important job a year ago. It should be no surprise that both our forward-thinking president and his party's pragmatic senate campaign arm both recognized this early. The rest of Colorado's Democrats would be wise to follow suit.