WASHINGTON — Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet made a splash last week for furiously lashing out at Sen. Ted Cruz on the U.S. Senate floor, accusing the Texas Republican of crying “crocodile tears” over workers impacted by the government shutdown.
That same day, the potential presidential candidate’s Senate campaign launched ads touting his speech in crucial primary states, according to a review of Facebook’s political advertisements.
Those ads targeted users in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire, according to Facebook data. And they ran as Bennet remains publicly noncommittal about his plans for a bid to unseat President Trump in 2020.
But Bennet has told The Colorado Independent and other news outlets he has considered a presidential run. Last week, he told MSNBC of his plans for a White House bid: “I’m thinking about it … like every single other person” in the U.S. Capitol
Bennet’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday about the purpose of the ads and whether they’re related to a possible presidential run.
Still, those early presidential primary and caucus states will be critical battlegrounds for contenders in the already burgeoning field of Democratic primary candidates. Those presidential hopefuls include several other U.S. senators.
Bennet’s uncharacteristically charged speech attacking Cruz ignited some speculation on social media that he’ll soon be joining his colleagues by jumping into the fray.
“I think Michael is the proverbial mild-mannered understated guy, so whenever he breaks free of that expectation, it gets attention,” said David Skaggs, a former Colorado Democratic congressman.
Skaggs doesn’t think Bennet’s speech was done with “premeditation for eventual presidential purposes.” He said the senator’s outrage “didn’t strike me of having much of an element of posing to it. He just was fed up and let it out, which was unusual for him.”
The Facebook ad that Bennet’s campaign ran last Thursday and Friday linked to an article from The Hill titled, “Bennet gives emotional speech ripping into Cruz over shutdown.”
Cruz had called for Coast Guard members to be paid during the shutdown (which ended Friday). Bennet shot back in an impassioned Thursday speech, visibly angry and red in the face as he shouted his retort.
“I seldom as you know rise on this floor to contradict somebody on the other side,” Bennet said. “I’ve worked very hard over the years to work in a bipartisan way … but these crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take. They’re too hard for me to take.”
Bennet pointed to Cruz’s role in the 2013 government shutdown, when the Texas Republican’s push to defund President Obama’s signature health care law was central to the political fight that led agencies to shutter.
“When the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded. It was under water. People were killed. People’s houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were ruined forever. And because of the senator from Texas, this government was shut down for politics,” Bennet said.
Cruz responded, “The senator from Colorado spent a great deal of time yelling, spent a great deal of time attacking me personally. … I will say in all of my time in the Senate, I don’t believe I have ever bellowed or yelled at one of my colleagues on the Senate floor and I hope that in my time before me that I don’t ever do that.”
The exchange went viral on social media, and the C-SPAN video of Bennet’s remarks had more than 430,000 views.
The ads in primary states aren’t the only ones Bennet’s campaign has run on Facebook this month.
Another one that launched Tuesday and is running in the same four early-primary states slams a GOP effort to repeal the federal estate tax. Yet another that was active Tuesday but had been accessed by users in dozens of states encourages viewers to join Bennet in signing a petition demanding no more government shutdowns.
Some of Bennet’s campaign ads were running only in Colorado, including one that encourages viewers to sign a petition to “Say no to Trump’s border wall.”
Bennet has been a Colorado senator since 2009, when then-Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to fill a vacancy left by Ken Salazar, who became Interior Department secretary. Bennet won election to the seat in 2010 and won re-election in 2016.
After graduating from Yale Law School in 1993, Bennet served as a law clerk for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and as a U.S. deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.
From 1997 to 2003, Bennet was managing director for the Anschutz Investment Company, following that with a stint as chief of staff to former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Bennet served as superintendent of Denver Public Schools from 2005 until 2009, when he was appointed to the Senate.