Low Polls? No Debates? No Problem. Michael Bennet Is Still Running For President

Listen Now
3min 57sec
Michael Bennet
John Locher/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaks during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas.

Five Democratic candidates have left the 2020 presidential race since the start of November — and billionaire Michael Bloomberg got in.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is not one of the quitters. His long-shot presidential push continues to chug along like the little engine that could.

Bennet’s outlasted fellow Coloradan John Hickenlooper. He’s outlasted candidates with higher name recognition and fatter war chests, like former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. And he’s outlasted candidates still earning spots on the debate stage, like California Sen. Kamala Harris

Bennet hasn’t made a televised debate appearance since the second debate in July

“I think that his campaign is being smart with the money that they have raised,” said Jennifer Holdsworth, Democratic campaign strategist and former state director for Hilary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “It appears that he’s adopted a strategy of slow and steady, and I think that’s working for him.”

Bennet has been on a shoestring from the start, which is part of why he hasn’t burned out Holdsworth said.

According to the most recent campaign filings, Bennet's total fundraising was just under $5 million as of the end of September. That pales in comparison to the $35.5 million that Harris raised during her campaign for the presidency. Bennet’s $5 million is hardly enough to open multiple state offices let alone buy television air time. But it is enough for a few paychecks.

“Look, if you spend it smartly and you have a really skeletal staff that essentially does everything, it is possible to stay in through New Hampshire,” Holdsworth said.

Arguably, that appears to be the Bennet plan. He’s styled himself after the longshot bid of Coloradan Gary Hart who stunned in 1984 with his New Hampshire victory. He’s started to spend some of his limited resources to expand his Granite State staff. He's also leaning a lot on the one person he doesn't have to pay — himself. Bennet plans to host 50 town halls across the state between now and the February primary. 

If being the tortoise rather than the hare has allowed Bennet to remain in the race as long as he has, it’s not the way to win the nomination. Democratic strategist Jim Manley argued that Bennet has a very tough climb.

“I would think that one of the things they're betting on is that as more and more folks drop out, they can rise up in the polls,” Manley said. “[Bennet’s] problem, in particular, is that he's so low that it's going to take one hell of a ride for him to get up into a top tier candidate level status.”

According to Manley, no candidate wants to be flying under the radar. They want to lead the polls and get — if not dominate — news coverage.

Manley, who spent several years working in the Senate, knows Bennet well enough to know he wouldn’t be running if he didn’t believe he has something to offer the nation. But the polls show that Bennet’s candidacy isn’t gaining steam — it's stuck between zero and 1 percent.

Still, Bennet hopes his efforts in New Hampshire pay off in a surprisingly strong showing, if not outright victory in the New Hampshire primary.

University of Denver Political Science Professor Seth Masket said, though, the nation hasn’t seen a real come-from-behind primary victory like Jimmy Carter or Gary Hart in decades.

“This is still a political environment that really, it's kind of built to advantage a more established candidate with name recognition, with national reputations or with a lot of money,” Masket said. “And none of those things seem to, you know, pertain to Bennet right now.”

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Sen. Michael Bennet answers questions from voters in Dover, N.H., on Nov. 6, 2019.

There is an upside for Bennet. Large fields can create a certain amount of unpredictability.

There is also no downside for Bennet if he remains in the race, Masket said. He’s not up for re-election and — as of now — voters in Colorado don’t seem to mind, let alone resent, his absences from the state or the Senate. And Bennet’s run is enabling him to develop a national reputation that could help him if a Democrat does win in 2020.

“He could still end up in the next presidential administration. He could be a potential vice presidential candidate. I think this is probably helpful for him career-wise, even if it doesn't, you know, doesn't end up with him as president,” Masket said.

While polling and money play a large role in whether to continue a race, ultimately, it’s up to the candidate to decide if and when to pull the plug. And right now, all indications show that Michael Bennet still plans to keep on chugging along — at least until the first primaries.