Updated Feb. 19, 5:53 p.m.
Fresh off ending his presidential campaign, Sen. Michael Bennet is still not backing any Democratic presidential candidate over the others in the party's bid to take the presidency from President Donald Trump. But, Bennet says he thinks it's possible to flip the balance of political power in the Senate in November to Democrats — and that includes unseating his colleague Sen. Cory Gardner.
Bennet answered questions about the 2020 election, the state of the U.S. Senate and other top-of-mind issues for voters in Littleton during a town hall on Tuesday night.
Attendees like Greg Reizian of Evergreen wanted to know more about what Bennet learned during his run for the Democratic nomination for president and which of the candidates he will support in the primary.
“I think he had every right and reason to do that and I think the Democrats needed to essentially be open to this flood of potential candidates that would throw their hat in the ring,” Reizian said. “The primary issue of concern for me (is) defeating Trump and [Sen.] Cory Gardner in November since we have a chance to do that and change the balance of power in the Senate.”
Just last week, Bennet ended his run for president after campaigning for nearly a year. He’s received criticism and support over the decision.
“I learned that Colorado is in the sweet spot I think of where American politics is,” Bennet said. “If you are somebody who can get elected statewide in this state I think that you can get elected across the country.”
Republican political consultant Tyler Sandberg previously told CPR News that he thought Bennet did not represent the state well while running for president and his time would have been better used in the Senate. While running for president, Bennet missed 28 percent of the votes in the Senate in the last year, according to the website GovTrack.us.
“I think people know in Colorado how hard I work,” Bennet said to the criticism. “That’s never been a concern. They may disagree with me on stuff, but people know how hard I work.”
Bennet held a town hall in December and Colorado Democrats seemed to forgive his absences. State Senate Democratic Majority Leader Steve Fenberg said Bennet probably ran for president because he didn’t feel productive in the Senate.
During the town hall, a woman asked about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell [R-KY] and the number of bills that have passed in the House but haven’t made progress in the Senate.
“The person at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is important but that’s not all that matters,” Bennet said in response. “We need to be thinking about this in the primaries, not just in the General Election. And I’m going to do everything I can do to make sure that I do whatever I can do to send him back to Kentucky because I’m tired of the American people not having a responsive government.”
The House passed nearly 400 bills in this session of Congress, but more than 300 bills are stuck in the Senate, according to the House Democratic Policy & Communications Committee. A spokeswoman with Bennet’s office said some bills were voted on in the House more than 300 days ago but haven’t seen any action in the Senate.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner is up for re-election in November. Bennet said he has a good working relationship with Gardner and wants to maintain their relationship but that he has endorsed former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in the race. Bennet said he thinks purple states like Colorado make it possible to flip the Senate to Democratic control in November, but that he hasn’t decided yet on how much he’ll actively campaign against Gardner.
Bennet also said he’s not sure yet which candidate he’ll back for president.
“I think it’s going to be the most important election of our lifetime,” he said, adding that he noticed in Iowa and New Hampshire that the longer the race went on, the more undecided everybody got.
“By the very end what people were saying was ‘Can we just skip the primary because we know what we want to do in the general election? We just don’t know who the right person is to pick in the primary,’" Bennet said to the crowd of about 100 people. "And I think that’s the way a lot of people are right now and that’s how I’m feeling myself.”
Bennet will host town halls in Grand Junction, Steamboat Springs and Leadville later this week. Bennet himself is up for reelection in the Senate in 2022.
CPR’s Bente Birkeland and Megan Verlee contributed to this reporting.