Michael Bennet grassroots kickoff

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, answers questions from donors during a virtual fundraiser for his re-election campaign on Monday, June 14, 2021.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said Monday night during a virtual fundraiser that electing Democrats next year — including by winning his own bid for a third term in Colorado — is "critical" to strengthening the country's form of government and moving past the Trump  administration years.

"Our democracy had a near-death experience, and that was punctuated on Jan. 6, but I think the four years that Donald Trump was president, every single day he attempted to erode our democracy in fundamental ways, to compromise the rule of law, to ignore the governing structures that so many Americans have protected, have fought for and died for over so many years," Bennet said. "And then on the sixth, we really did have a near-death experience."

Bennet said he wished more Republicans in Washington, D.C., had "stood up to President Trump the way some Republicans did across the country," mentioning election officials in swing states and dozens of judges who "sent the lawyers packing" when Trump's legal team failed to produce any evidence of election fraud in more than 60 lawsuits.

"Those people out in the country lived up to their oaths to office, lived up to their oaths to the Constitution. And I'm hoping there's going to come a time in Washington again when the national Republican Party has people here — not just a very few — but people here that support those beliefs as well and not the requirements of a tyrant," Bennet said. "But in the meantime, it's really important for us to win some elections."

Bennet, who is seeking a third full term, spoke to more than 70 donors during an hour-long Zoom teleconference dubbed the grassroots kick-off to his 2022 campaign. Bennet's campaign manager, Justin Lamorte, told Colorado Politics the fundraiser took in $10,000 "nearly on the nose," calling it "a solid haul" for a grassroots fundraising event with most tickets going for $25 and hosts ponying up $200.

"I am looking forward to campaigning on my record, and what I hope to get done in another term to continue to help Colorado recover from the COVID crisis," he said. "And to make sure we've got an economy that works for all Americans, not just the people at the very top, that we're protecting our environment and meeting the test of climate change and protecting Colorado's public lands. And — always — that we're strengthening our democracy and that we're restoring America's place in the world."

In introductory remarks and answering questions submitted by contributors, Bennet continually sounded the alarm over what he described as the country's brush with losing its ability to govern itself.

"Given how vulnerable we have now discovered our own democracy is, how at-risk it is, how close we came to losing it if some local elected officials — actually many of them Republicans in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan — had not fulfilled their oath of office and instead succumbed to Donald Trump's pressure, the way senators and congressmen here succumbed to his pressure, God knows where we would be right now, which means all of us have a huge responsibility now."

Bennet characterized two Senate Republicans at opposite ends of a spectrum.

"One thing we can't do is go back to the obstruction that Mitch McConnell wrought during the Obama administration. He basically brought our democracy to its knees," Bennet said, referring to the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky who has recently vowed to block President Joe Biden's legislative agenda and on Monday said he wouldn't bring a Biden Supreme Court nominee to a vote in 2024 if the GOP holds the majority.

"I think we should be reforming the filibuster to be able to address that," Bennet said. "And I think the best way for him not to be in a position to block the next Supreme Court nominee, which he would do, is to make sure he's not the majority leader, and the best way of doing that is by winning Democratic races in Colorado, obviously, but also in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where today there are Republican incumbents, that I think we can win, and in Ohio and Florida too."

Democrats hold the narrowest of majorities in the 50-50 Senate, relaying on Vice President Kamala Harris to provide the tie-breaking vote. Next year, Republicans are targeting Democratic-held Senate seats in battleground states Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Nevada, while Democrats have their eyes on GOP-held seats in the four states Bennet named, plus Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Bennet added that he has a friend, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who has announced his retirement.

"He can't run for re-election this year because he would get crushed by some Trump-authoritarian-type Republican," Bennet said. "Under those circumstances, I think that Democrats have a moral responsibility to try to win those seats so we can put that authoritarianism behind us so our democracy can start to function better for the American people."

Bennet addressed the reliable tendency for voters in midterm elections to penalize members of the party that holds the White House, which has happened in all but three midterm elections in the last century, including in Democrat Franklin Roosevelt's first midterm.

"While midterm elections are historically really difficult, I think we can win these midterms, just the same way FDR did it in 1934," Bennet said. "A lot of people think the whole New Deal happened in that first 100 days of that administration. It's not true. A lot of the important things happened in '35 and '36 after he had won the midterm elections, and he was able to do that because he had delivered for the American people. That's the opportunity we have today."

That gave Bennet a chance to tout his highest-profile legislative win, an expanded child tax credit he's pushed for years, which was adopted in the massive pandemic relief legislation passed by Democrats in March.

The temporary credit — set to expire after five years, though Bennet is working to make it permanent — is supposed to cut child poverty almost in half by paying parents up to $300 a month per child, starting next month.

Asked whether he knows who is Republican opponent will be, Bennet shook his head — he has yet to draw a prominent challenger, though a handful of first-time candidates and a failed GOP congressional nominee have thrown their hats in the ring — but urged his supporters not to get complacent.

"I don't know. I don't know which Republican it's going to be. I'm sure they're thinking hard about it," he said. "What we know is, once somebody gets in, the race will get competitive, because it always is in Colorado. Our job now is to use this time to create as much infrastructure as possible across the state — not just supporting my race or the other statewide (positions), but local elected (offices) as well."

Bennet endorsers who spoke during the fundraiser included U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Centennial Democrat, state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and state Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora.

Crow, who is seeking a third term representing the suburban 6th Congressional District, said he regularly turns to Bennet for "sage advice."

"I can say without a doubt Michael Bennet is a friend and somebody who, when I need good advice and wisdom, I can count on. He's a person of great integrity," Crow said. "More than anything else, our country is suffering from a crisis of character and integrity."

Pettersen recalled working on Bennet's first campaign in 2010, when the appointed senator was written off by national pundits but wound up winning a full term in what turned out to be the closest Senate race in the country that year, decided by a single vote per precinct, Pettersen noted.

As a young campaign worker, Pettersen said, she was struck by how Bennet "always went out of his way to make you feel appreciated."

Jackson credited Bennet for organizing virtual meetings among the state's Democratic elected officials to talk policy and strategy.

Bennet expressed frustration with Democratic colleagues in the Senate who have so far resisted changing the rules surrounding the filibuster, which allow 40 senators to block consideration of most legislation.

"But you can't get discouraged," he said. "Unfortunately, democracy is never easy. Believe me, I'm as frustrated as anybody else that we've got people that are unwilling to change the rules to make the Senate more effective for the American people and not cave in to McConnell's obstruction, which has been so damaging to the country. But what we can't do is give up. We have to keep fighting."

He said when young people say it doesn't make a difference who gets elected, Bennet said he reflects on the time he has remaining.

"The way I look at it now, I don't know how much time I have left, but I imagine the next 25 to 30 years of my life are going to be dedicated to make this democracy stronger and more democratic and more fair and more free, and I think that's what we all should be trying to do. There are always going to be bumps in the road, but it's got to make us fight harder, rather than make us want to give up."

Bennet said a key goal for his next term will be to help "restore America's place in the world."

"We've got to show the world that the story of Jan. 6 is not our story. The story of America is Jan. 20, where we had a peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden," he said.

"How exciting to live in a time when the things we do are so consequential and matter so much to so many people. Whether we're in the Senate or teaching school or running a farm or a ranch, it doesn't matter, we all have a stake in this. Because we have the insight of those (last) four years, there's no excuse. We've got to go out there and do the job as citizens in a democratic republic."

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