U.S. Sen. Bennet to head Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

The Colorado Statesman

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Tuesday accepted a position to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, bringing to an end several weeks of speculation as to whether the moderate Coloradan would thrust himself into such a partisan spotlight.

Bennet’s role — which he was asked to take on by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada shortly after the November election — earns Colorado a Senatorial leadership position for the first time in more than 20 years. The last time was in the mid-1980s when Sen. Bill Armstrong chaired the then-Republican Policy Committee.

“This will not be an easy job, but I feel strongly that families and small businesses in my state have a lot riding on our success,” Bennet said in a statement. “Coloradans, like all Americans, need a U.S. Senate that fights for them — not the special interests.”

U.S Sen. Michael Bennett

As chair of the DSCC, Bennet will lead Democratic fundraising and recruitment efforts for the 2014 election cycle. There are at least 33 Senate races expected for 2014. Twenty Democrats face reelection, including seven in states Republican Mitt Romney won. The two-year job means Bennet will be raising funds for his colleague, Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado.

Only 13 Republicans are up for reelection in 2014, and most of those are in deep-red states where Democrats have little chance of success.

The decision took Bennet three weeks to make, indicating the challenging nature of the position. He declined a request in 2010 to chair the committee. But this time around, Bennet agreed to take on the partisan role, which will surely result in an explosion of attention for the laid-back senator from Denver.

He stands in stark contrast to previous chairs of the committee, including outspoken Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. The last leader of the DSCC was Washington Sen. Patty Murray, known to be more soft-spoken, but a true liberal.

Whether Bennet will be able to maintain his low-key moderate approach to politics stands the test of time. He has always painted himself as a sort of Washington outsider, having been appointed to the seat by former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, in 2009 when Ken Salazar took a position with President Barack Obama’s administration as Secretary of the Interior.

But his campaign strategy has been the envy of other Democrats after he defeated Republican Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck in 2010 by attacking him over women’s issues. It was Bennet’s first political contest. Prior to that he served as superintendent of Denver Public Schools and served as John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff when he was still mayor of Denver.

Bennet was very successful in raising funds in 2010. Since then, strategists have called it the “Bennet model,” an approach that could be seen in President Barack Obama’s campaign this year in which Democratic operatives highlighted a so-called “war on women.”

“Michael is one of the brightest rising stars in the Democratic Party, and he is exactly the right person to lead our efforts over the next two years,” Reid said in a statement. “Not only does Michael know how to win tough races, he has the trust and loyalty of the entire Democratic caucus behind him.”

Beltway insiders are speculating that Bennet took the position this year because his friend and former aide, Guy Cecil, will remain in his job as executive director of the DSCC.

“The DSCC has helped stop the rise of the Tea Party and given ordinary families more voices in Washington,” Bennet’s statement continued. “I look forward to working once again with my friend Guy Cecil and I know the caucus is enormously grateful for his continued service.”

Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, praised Bennet’s leadership.

“Few public leaders are as familiar with the need for commonsense leadership for middle class families as Senator Bennet,” said Palacio. “As Tea Party groups prepare to take over Senate seats in 2014, the American people will discover what Coloradans already know — voices for mainstream values can win out over shrill partisanship. Our Senator and our party’s new leader embodies this idea daily.”

Republicans, however, said Bennet’s acceptance of the leadership role is not in line with the will of his constituents.

“When Sen. Bennet was elected in 2010, voters in Colorado trusted he would remain focused and engaged in the issues affecting our state,” said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. “Unfortunately, Sen. Bennet’s decision to head the DSCC proves that his priorities now lie outside of Colorado and with the special interests of Washington, D.C.

“Our state’s unique needs and diverse population deserve leaders that are focused on developing reasonable, thoughtful public policy — rather than leaders that are more interested in courting liberal special interests and deep-pocketed donors,” continued Call. “Sen. Bennet’s new role as head of the DSCC misplaces his priorities and obligations to the people of Colorado.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com