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Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet announces presidential run

Bennet is 21st major Democratic candidate seeking 2020 nomination

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet becomes the 21st Democrat to enter the 2020 presidential race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet announced Thursday that he will join the crowded field for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. He is the 21st major Democrat to announce a presidential run.

Bennet made his announcement on “CBS This Morning.”

“I think this country faces two enormous challenges, among others. 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 said on the show. “If we keep going down this road, we’re going to be the first generation of Americans to leave less opportunity, not more.”

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Bennet raised his profile in January during the partial government shutdown when he made an impassioned floor speech that went viral as he responded to one from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

“These crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take,” Bennet said, his voice rising as he recalled Cruz’s role in shutting down the government in 2013, which held up emergency funds for Colorado floods. “They’re too hard for me to take, because when the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded. It was underwater."

“People were killed,” Bennet continued. “People’s houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were ruined, forever.”

The performance allowed him to further test the presidential waters. His campaign bought Facebook ads promoting stories about the speech in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. His book “The Land of the Flickering Lights” comes out in June.

A cut of the speech became the most-viewed C-SPAN Twitter video ever, and it’s now the second-most-viewed video across all C-SPAN digital platforms behind a clip of President Barack Obama’s speech to the 2015 White House correspondents’ dinner.

Bennet, 54, underwent successful prostate surgery two weeks ago when Congress was on spring recess. He was advised by his doctors that surgery to remove the prostate gland was the most prudent course.

He disclosed his diagnosis in early April, and said it altered his campaign plans.

“The idea was to announce sometime in April,” Bennet told the Colorado Independent. “That was the plan. We hired some staff. We interviewed people for positions in New Hampshire and Iowa. And then I went for the physical. In my last physical, my PSA was high. They did a biopsy, and it was clear. But this time, it was not clear.”

After the operation Bennet “was cleared with a clean bill of health,” he said Thursday morning on CBS. The senator described his health ordeal as “very clarifying” and it motivated him to enter the race. A cancer diagnosis “would have been a great excuse to say this is just some adolescent fantasy and I shouldn’t run. That’s not how I reacted,” Bennet said. “And frankly the other reaction that I had was to think about what it would feel like to get a cancer diagnosis like that and not have insurance, and to know that this president as long as he’s been president has worked so hard to take insurance away from people in America,” Bennet continued.

In the Senate, Bennet has often tried to seek compromise. He is one of the Democrats most focused on the budget deficit and in 2012 was part of a group that attempted to produce deficit reduction legislation based on the work of the 2010 Simpson-Bowles commission. He also was one of three Democratic senators to oppose the January 2013 “fiscal cliff” deal, which averted income tax increases on earnings under $400,000 but didn’t cut federal spending. And he was also part of the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group that sought to enact comprehensive changes to immigration law.

In his 2016 reelection race, Bennet narrowly outpaced Hillary Clinton. Clinton beat Trump in the state by 5 points, a smaller margin than many expected. Bennet beat Republican El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn by 5.5 points.

Bennet arrived at the Senate in 2009 through an appointment by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, replacing Ken Salazar when he became Obama's secretary of the Interior. 

Bennet had previously worked as the superintendent of Colorado public schools, an advisor to conservative billionaire entrepreneur Phil Anschutz and a speechwriter for Attorney General Janet Reno. 

Bennet voted to end cloture on the nomination of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, a former attorney for Anschutz, to the Supreme Court.

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