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Michael Bennet a welcome addition to the 2020 Democratic field

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A longtime prominent Democratic progressive lawmaker, at a private dinner, suggests the most important criteria for the party’s 2020 Presidential nominee is not ideology, nor gender nor age, but someone who can both win and govern.

Familiar with most of the candidates, the one, in his view, that best fits that bill: Michael Bennet, the U.S. Senator from Colorado. After successful prostate cancer surgery, the 55 year-old Democrat launched his bid earlier this month.

{mosads}He is a very thoughtful and pragmatic liberal who works well with colleagues on both sides. He has held important posts in state and local government and the executive branch. In 2010 he was one of the few Democrats from a competitive state to stave off the Republican Tea party surge. He likely would win a general election and — better than most others — navigate the almost impossibly polarized environment in Washington.

Yet it’s difficult to see a path for a Michael Bennet acceptance speech at the Milwaukee convention 16 months from now.

He lacks the lengthy experience, contacts and warmth of Joe Biden; the new generational appeal of Pete Buttigieg or Beto O’Rourke; the ideological passion of Bernie Sanders — and if it’s the year of the woman, the gender of Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren.

Larger than the fate of this highly qualified candidate is a nominating process that places little or no premium on what should be a central question: Who could govern effectively?

Some of the fault lies with the media, especially cable television which caters to contrived controversy and sound bites; That’s not Michael Bennet.

It also reflects the lack of peer review. The Democratic National Committee, capitulating to irrational pressures, has severely diminished any role in the presidential nominating process for super or automatically designated delegates. These are the top federal and state elected and party officials, those with whom any president has to work in governing.

The Bernie Sanders backers charged super delegates, comprising about 15 percent of the 2016 convention, were “establishment” figures who conspired against Sanders. Actually, Hillary Clinton won a lot more votes than Sanders in the primaries and caucuses.

They were “establishment” figures chosen by the party’s rank and file voters. Most wanted a nominee that reflected their constituents’ choice and also someone who could win and with whom they could then work. In 2008, super delegates defected from the initial “establishment” candidate, Hillary Clinton, only after Barack Obama won early contests and showed the presence to be President.

{mossecondads}To be sure, Bennet’s candidacy would be uphill, irrespective of super delegates. He’s a self-styled “pragmatic idealist,” who faces criticism for some actions as the top official in Denver schools a decade ago and especially his vote two years ago for cloture to allow a vote on Neil Gorsuch, the right wing Supreme Court Justice. (Bennet, who ended up voting against Gorsuch, also from Colorado, argued he was replacing the late Antonin Scalia and Democrats should hold their fire on any filibuster until  the next nominee when it might be harder for Republicans to change the rules. They didn’t; Republicans, having changed the rules, later elevated  Brett Kavanaugh to the High Court.)

From a family of public service and privilege, he will be depicted as an East Coast elitist; St. Alban’s prep school, Wesleyan University, Yale Law school. But he chose to move out West, and he rails against the “coastal” mindset of too many leading Democrats.

And he’s leading the charge for sensible liberal initiatives. Eschewing the politically perilous government-run, single-payer healthcare plan, he proposes giving individuals a choice between their private insurance and a public option and enhance the affordability of Obamacare. He’s a lead sponsor of a bill to significantly expand the Earned income Tax Credit for the working poor and the child tax credit for families. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group, says this “would raise income of 46 million households” and “lift 1.3 million children out of deep poverty.”

These are realistic governing goals for a Democratic president in 2021.

He has a personal story, his successful treatment recently for cancer. He can show those sizable medical bills, almost all of which probably were covered by his Senate health insurance plan, and ask voters in Iowa or New Hampshire if they would be as fortunate.

This candidacy is real long shot. Bennet’s best chance of being on a national ticket may be as a running mate if a woman wins the nomination. But he’s a welcome addition to the field.

NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to clarify that Bennet voted for cloture on Gorsuch.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for the Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 candidates Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Beto O'Rourke Brett Kavanaugh Democratic Party Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Michael Bennet Michael Bennet Neil Gorsuch Pete Buttigieg Superdelegate

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