Fenned on the big screen TV of the living room was Bennet's recent viral speech lambasting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on the Senate floor. In the speech, Bennet, a mild-mannered lawmaker who speaks with an air of pragmatic optimism, passionately talks about government shutdown and raises his voice as he accuses Cruz of "crocodile tears" for lamenting his tactics he once used himself [19659002
"I'm glad you are not playing that now," he said to the small man, audience, "because I would say, 'God, I do not want to follow that guy.'"
Bennet's explosive moment last month has become his calling card, giving the senator a way into conversations with groups that a few short months ago would not have known him.
"I do not think it defines my time in the Senate," Bennet told CNN while sitting on Varner's couch, adding that "it's enough to launch him in a field already bursting with presidential candidates."
"It's just one speech, but it does give me a sense that there are people who are open to that message and there are people who just don "
" That is where I got "
" That's where I got introduced to him, "said Varner, the 70-year-old guest of Bennet's first event. "I've probably watched it four or five times in its entirety."
"That was the moment for me," said Kim Mangers, and 59-year-old Democrat from Dubuque. "
Even with the encouragement of people like Varner and Mangers, however, Bennet's next task is convincing voters his eye-catching speech was not the beginning and the end of what he has to offer in a growing field of Democrats running for the chance to take on President Donald Trump
Bennet is not prepared to say what makes him better than those Democrats ̵
"When I'm ready, I'll let you know," he said.
The Colorado Democrat also said he welcomed a bigger field – "My view is the more the merrier, "he said – and believes it will strengthen the eventual nominee
" "Bennet said, with only Nebraska separating Iowa from Colorado.
As he made his way across Iowa, Bennet walked into a living room Saturday at an acreage outside Winterset, the city made famous in the book and movie "The Bridges of Madison County." Even the Democratic activists are attuned to party politics, he needs a introduction.
"Hi, I'm Michael Bennet," he says again and again, moving from group to group.
Vickie Brenner, who was hosting Bennet in her family's home, tried to help people make a familiar connection and burnish his progressive credentials.
"Like many of you, I saw the video!" Brenner said as she introduced the visiting senator. "
Several hands went up in the room of about three dozen people, with heads nodding in acknowledgment
Bennet is pitching himself as a pragmatic lawmaker who has a progressive voting record but who knows what it takes to win in an electorally split state such as Colorado. He leans heavily on his education roots – he was the superintendent of Denver Public Schools before joining the Senate in 2009 – and calls education "the single biggest issue" of the country faces.
While taking questions about changing climate, money in politics, economic opportunity and more, his answers are long-like a senator who is suddenly not constrained by a hearing hearing's time clock
"I apologize," he said at one point Saturday after talking at such length he snake to leave before he could answer all the questions in the room.
He talks about how Washington should be, not how it is. He also speaks more about the Capitol than the White House.
He also does not stand firm on some of the central issues driving the campaign debate. When a voter asks whether he is concerned about the party being pulled too far to the left, he does not answer directly, but calls for building coalitions to achieve progress
"I'm not going to pass judgment one way or another on the Green New Deal, "he said when asked by a voter about the plan that divides some Democrats over its practicality. "
To some, though, Bennet's pitch makes him a" moderate, "as one woman in Iowa called him during a question and answer session Thursday.
Bennet flinched at the moniker.
"Well," he said, before describing himself as a "pragmatic idealist."
"Someone who thinks they're progressive would be interested in making progress,"
While some of Bennet's political proposals fall into line with progressives in his party, his view of Medicare for All – the sweeping health care plan being pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and a host of other 2020 candidates – is more centrist, and the fact that senator does not run away from.
"I'm concerned about that bill," he said, noting he has concerns with Medicare for All Bill backed by Sanders would do the employer-backed insurance plans that most Americas have. "I do not think that's a good starting point."
If he enters the race – a decision he told CNN on Saturday that he would make "soon" – he would undoubtedly be pushed to take a specific stand
With so many of his fellow Democrats already seeking party nomination, the fact that he is exploring a bid of his own raises the question of what he believes is missing from the current field. 19659002] "I'm not sure it's about something missing. I think it just happens to be a moment in history when we're going to have a billion people on our side and I think that's good," Bennet said in a Saturday interview . "I think it was a tragedy for us to lose to Donald Trump – unconscionable that we lost to Donald Trump. We have to find a way back from there, not just to win, but to govern the country as well."
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Helen Varner's name