WASHINGTON — Sen. Michael Bennet is officially running for the White House in 2020.
“My plan is to run for president,” the Colorado Democrat said in an interview on CBS News. He joins an already crowded field — he’s the 21st Democrat to jump into the race for the party’s nomination and the second from Colorado, following former Gov. John Hickenlooper.
During his announcement, Bennet signaled that he plans to paint himself as someone who can work across the aisle, but won’t pull his punches in battles against President Trump or the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
He said political polarization has gotten worse under Trump, but it was a problem even before the 2016 presidential election.
“There is no bipartisanship in Washington today to speak of. That is true, and we have been tyrannized for the last 10 years by the Freedom Caucus,” Bennet said, referring to the GOP’s conservative wing. “These people won’t cooperate, they won’t compromise, they believe they have a monopoly on wisdom and they’ve got a cartoon version of what the Founding Fathers were trying to do.”
Bennet, 54, announced last month that he had undergone surgery for prostate cancer, but required no further treatment.
“It was very clarifying,” he told CBS. “I feel incredibly lucky because I got a diagnosis and five years later, after an operation, I was cleared with a clean bill of health. That gave me a chance to think about whether I really wanted to run or not.”
On Capitol Hill earlier this week, Bennet told The Colorado Independent, “I’m feeling really good.”
Bennet pointed to two “enormous challenges” as he announced his campaign Thursday. “One is a lack of economic mobility and opportunity for most Americans and the other is the need to restore integrity to our government.”
Bennet will now be in a race against the other Democrats, many of whom are his Senate colleagues, to qualify for the televised primary debates, which kick off in late June.
The Democratic National Committee has said it would limit those debates to 20 candidates.
Bennet said he stands out for a number of reasons. “I have a tendency to tell the truth to the people I represent in Colorado. I want the chance to do that with the American people,” he said. He pointed to his record winning “very tough races in a purple state” and his background in business and as the superintendent of Denver’s public schools.
“I don’t think anybody has as broad a set of experiences in the field and I think that will distinguish me,” he said.
Still, Bennet “starts as an underdog,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the newsletter “Inside Elections.” “He probably starts in the third tier of candidates.”
He’s a U.S. senator with experience working outside of Washington, so that combination could be appealing, Gonzales said.
But like the raft of other Democratic candidates, Bennet “has to quickly find a message that distinguishes him from the rest of the field.”
The entry of both Hickenlooper and Bennet — Hickenlooper’s friend and former staffer — into the field could put some Colorado Democrats in an awkward position as the race gets under way.
“I think we have an embarrassment of riches in Colorado with both my senator and my governor running,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) told the Independent earlier this year. “I told them both as long as they’re both in, I’m staying out. But I think they’re both great.”