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No Sen. Bennet in This Race — It’s Just Michael

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Former Colorado Speaker Andrew Romanoff speaks to a small group of supporters at an apartment complex in Lakewood on Friday. To see more photos, click here.

DENVER — If it’s all really just an act, Sen. Michael Bennet plays it well.

On the campaign trail, the Colorado Democrat doesn’t come across as the son of a diplomat, an Ivy League graduate or one of the 50 richest Members of Congress.

He’s just Michael. He wears a $20 watch from Target (“It keeps perfect time,” he says), shows up to campaign events in a shirt with holes in the collar and forgets that he should stand facing the cameras during photo ops arranged by his staff. When addressing a room full of supporters, he often has a hand in the pocket of his frayed jeans.

At a gathering of about 20 people Saturday morning sponsored by a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, Bennet appeared most comfortable talking about birthday parties with 5-year-old Kalyssa Fenwick, even though Fenwick was more interested in her chocolate-frosted doughnut than conversing with the Senator.

Bennet, who was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) in early 2009 to replace now-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (D), may automatically be the insider in this year’s Senate race simply because he is the incumbent. But he’s doing everything he can to be the outsider’s insider.

In his ads, Bennet wanders through the mountains and rolling hills of Colorado, reminding voters that he’s been in Congress for only “a little over a year” and that he understands just how broken Washington is.

“I wake up every morning determined to fight for Colorado, to solve problems, not play politics,” Bennet says in one ad airing in the state. “I’m asking for your vote so that we can keep fighting together.”

During one of the most anti-Washington cycles in recent memory and in a state that is a top target of national Republicans, it’s probably the right approach. The question is whether voters believe the message and the image.

“Bennet was elected by one vote: Ritter’s,” John Dydyn said as he was eating a burger during the Friday lunchtime rush at City Grill, a political gathering spot in Denver just blocks from the state Capitol.

To Dydyn, an accountant, Bennet is little more than a rich kid who always got everything he wanted. After a job in the Clinton administration, Bennet spent some time in the private sector before his old college friend, John Hickenlooper (D), was elected mayor of Denver and asked Bennet to serve as his chief of staff. That led to an appointment to serve as superintendent of Denver’s public schools in 2005 even though Bennet had no real experience in the education field. Then came the Senate appointment, a move that surprised most everyone in Colorado political circles.

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