For the second night in a row, America got a feel for the best Colorado Democratic politics has to offer: a mild moderate with ideas big enough to make a difference and real enough to happen.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet went up against front-runners in the presidential race — former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker –  in the second night of the debates in Detroit.

The field of nearly two dozen candidates is expected to thin by half once the Democratic National Committee raises the qualifications to get on the debate stage.

Neither Bennet nor former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper are expected to remain in the field very much longer if they can't meet the 130,000-donor threshold for the third debate in September.

While they have nothing to apologize for, Detroit didn't provide either of them a breakout moment, one that would open the spigot of donors and sweep them from the back of the pack to the front of the race.

At least Marianne Williamson brought attention to the "dark, psychic force" in America, emboldened by President Donald Trump.

Colorado's Bennet jabs and parries in bruising Democratic presidential debate

Bennet used his introduction to recall seeing a Trump campaign sign outside a church that said, "America, love it or leave it."

"I love America," he said, pausing for effect. "And I know we can make it better."

Powerful.

Born into moderate wealth and Washington influence, Bennet talked about the kids in the Denver city school district where many students live in poverty when he was superintendent. He said they shared the same dreams he had, and reclaiming their future and the future for America means getting rid of the bully now in the White House.

"Empty promises will not defeat Donald Trump," Bennet said. "I can."

But Bennet is still Bennet, soft-spoken and patient, by nature. He didn't dismantle Harris, a front-runner, on her Medicare for all intentions without first pointing out that she's his friend, a courtesy she returned.

He didn't go directly after the biggest target on stage, Biden.

""Everybody's talking about how terrible I am on these issues," Biden said, noting a Democrat with who he had something in common: President Barack Obama. "And I'll take his judgment," and tacitly Bennet's, the former vice president said. 

Like Hickenlooper the night before, Bennet fought for a public health care option to get to universal health care, instead of scrapping private insurance for what they characterized as a burdensome government-run system.

He railed against the Republican tax cuts and spending on wars in the Middle East, which he said cost $12 trillion to $13 trillion.

"We might as well just have lit that money on fire" as far as investing in America, Bennet said in his most fiery moment.

He went down swinging — at Trump — in this closing argument.

"I think that we have an incredible opportunity in front of us. All of us," Bennet said. "To come together just as our parents and grandparents did before them, and face challenges even harder than the ones we face. But the only way that we're going to be able to do it is to put the divisive politics of Donald Trump behind us."

Hickenlooper got less speaking time than any other Democrat on the stage Tuesday night, but he still managed more vim and grit than I saw him display in two runs for Denver mayor and two campaigns for governor.

That’s what it takes in the big league. The nice guy in Denver is a loser in D.C.

Here was our former governor taking on the progressive icons of his party on the national stage. Here was an adversary who prompted Bernie Sanders to throw up his hands and Elizabeth Warren to go on the defensive.

If this was Hickenlooper’s last stand on the national stage, it’s hard to imagine him saying "giddy up" and galloping off into the sunset. I predicted two years ago, before anyone else, I think, that Hickenlooper might flirt with the presidency and marry the Senate race against incumbent Republican Cory Gardner.

Hick has consistently shot down the idea of serving in the Senate, and the field has grown to about a dozen Democrats, but stranger things have happened.

And if national leaders in the Democratic Party get nervous about whether they have the right candidate to take back a precious seat in the U.S. Senate, the path to Washington might clear for the former governor.

Bennet raised his profile on the national stage. Still not 55 years old, he’s got nearly a quarter of a century before he’s as seasoned as Bernie Sanders.

speculated before that Bennet might wind up someone's Education secretary, then serve as the leader of a Northeastern university, or possibly the University of Colorado someday.

He sounded like a job applicant Wednesday night.

Bennet pointed out that Biden and Harris were bickering over school busing when Harris was a child. Bennet said segregation in schools caused by economics still exists today, and 88% of people behind bars have one thing in common: They lack a high school diploma.

"Let's fix our school system and maybe we can fix the prison pipeline we have," he said.

Contact Joey Bunch at joey.bunch@coloradopolitics.com or follow him on Twitter @joeybunch.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

Load comments