The campaign of Sen. Michael Bennet is doing everything it can to show Democrats that Bennet is a strong health care reform supporter who supports the public option. Reaching out to proactively show Democrats that Bennet is firmly behind the public option is a great way to garner support from the left.
It’s just two months too late.
The entry of former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff into the U.S. Senate race was the absolute worst-case scenario for Bennet, and while it’s impossible to know if Bennet could have prevented Romanoff from mounting a primary challenge, he should damn well have done everything in his power to prevent it from happening. Sure, Bennet has raised a ton of money, but in a Democratic primary where Romanoff will start with significantly greater name ID, the latter needs only to be able to raise enough money to be competitive. Romanoff doesn’t need to outspend Bennet, or even come close, because he is so much more well-known and liked among Democratic primary voters.
But we digress…
Bennet’s urgency now at letting people know he supports the public option is just one part of two major Democratic measures that have served as a litmus test of sorts. The other issue, of course, is Bennet’s refusal to lay out a position on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). While EFCA is not something that the average voter is likely to care much about, it is a very important issue that many Democrats have used to gauge just what kind of “Democrat” Bennet might be in the Senate.
As The Denver Post opined today:
His silence on a few contentious issues, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, prompted Republicans to deride him as “Silent Senator Bennet.”
But we don’t think Sen. Michael Bennet’s silence was for lack of an opinion; rather, he was hoping to stave off a primary challenger from his left, knowing it could prove to be costly both politically and financially. His war chest – more than $2 million raised in nine months – also was meant to ward off all comers.
Bennet obviously didn’t want to take a public position on EFCA, for the unwarranted fear that he would alienate too many people. But by not taking a position on this key issue, Bennet signaled to many Democrats — including a key base in organized labor — that he might not be there for them on key Democratic issues. In other words, Bennet took a position even by not taking a position, and that’s why he now finds him self in the position of facing a difficult primary battle.
All of this could, and should, have been avoided if Bennet would have stopped the hand-wringing from the beginning and just used his political noodle. As we’ve written repeatedly, there was never any real downside to supporting EFCA. In fact, that theory was proven by Mark Udall when he was campaigning last year for the Senate. Certain business groups spent millions attacking Udall over his prior support for EFCA, but those ads proved about as effective as a toilet paper condom. Udall crushed Republican Bob Schaffer in the general election, which shows — again — how this was never going to be an issue that would have hurt Bennet in a general election.
There was a time, perhaps, when Democrats would be making the smart political move by trying to disguise their every opinion in order to appear more moderate. But that was also a time when Republicans controlled everything. If Bennet ends up losing the Democratic nomination to Romanoff, he’ll have nobody to blame but himself (and whoever advised him to be so overly cautious on policy issues).
If Bennet had come out early for the public option and supported EFCA in some form — even if just a promise to vote for cloture, which is all Udall has done — then there’s a good chance that Romanoff never would have had the groundswell of support behind him to justify a primary challenge. Sure, Bennet would have then made himself slightly (though not significantly) more vulnerable in a general election, but it’s better to be a little more vulnerable in November than to never make it to November at all.