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Q&A: Michael Bennet Hopes To Emerge From 2020 Democratic Field

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is one of the many Democrats seeking the party's nomination to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020. 

Bennet worked in Ohio early in his career as an aide to Gov. Richard Celeste. The senator outlined his platform Thursday at the City Club of Cleveland.

ideastream’s Nick Castele sat down with Bennet to talk about his campaign. Listen to the interview above, or read an excerpt below. 

I wanted to start with the news that’s been on all of our minds this week, the shootings in Dayton and El Paso. I know Democrats for many years have called for gun control measures. They have not been successful in getting those things passed on a federal level. Do you think that there is any change in appetite now for gun control, considering the events of this week?

I think it’s already been building and what happened this week in Dayton and El Paso is only going to make it more likely that this issue is either going to be taken up on the floor of the Senate or is going to be a voting issue going into the election.

My heart breaks, obviously, for what’s happened in these places. Colorado has had more than our share of these kinds of things, going back to Columbine 20 years ago. And 20 years ago, my Western state, which is a Second Amendment state, passed background checks. The same bill that the House of Representatives has passed and that [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell is so far refusing to put on the floor of the Senate. My hope is that they’ll hear enough about this over August that he will put it on the floor when we come back, and if he doesn’t, people are going to be voting on this in November.

What is your theory of the case, if you will, of what a Democrat needs to do to win and defeat President Trump next year?

My theory of the case is that we have to energize our base and we’ve got to bring a bunch of other voters with us if we’re going to beat Donald Trump. Donald Trump won about 9 million people that Barack Obama won twice, and we’ve got to get some of those people back. So my theory of the case is, the way you’re going to do that is by meeting people where they are, creating an agenda that unites people across the country, which is what we have to do to overcome Donald Trump and begin to govern the country again.

You’re also a member of the Senate intelligence committee, which just released a new report this summer on Russian election interference. Looking ahead to next year, where do you think our vulnerabilities are this time around, and what should people be aware of?

I can’t speak to the specifics of the intelligence committee, to the work that is done that is confidential. But we did put out that report, and it made it very clear that we are exposed to Russian hacking at every level of our government. It made it very clear that we are exposed on our social media platforms to that hacking as well. It also made it clear that it’s still happening. This is now something in the past. The Russians are still probing, trying to figure out how they can attack us.

Next week actually, I’m putting out a publication of my own that shows the American people what they were doing on social media, so people can understand it. I think that’s the first step, making sure people in America know what this propaganda looks like, so that they know how to identify it and they’ll know not to circulate it to their neighbors.

The Russians, it was a game for them, figuring out how to divide us against each other, especially to suppress the African-American vote in this country. And there’s reason to think they had some effect at doing that. The good news is, our intelligence agencies are much more prepared today than they were in 2016 to combat this. We had to deal with it in ’18, and the Russians are going to be back in ’20.

For an audience trying to sort out these many Democrats who are running right now, what is the one thing that you think distinguishes you from all the rest?

I would say the one thing is that I’ve had a very different set of experiences. I was the superintendent of the Denver public schools — which is a school district of 95,000 kids, $1 billion dollars — before I spent 10 years in the Senate. And having spent that time in the Senate, I’ve gotten a bunch of stuff done, but I’ve also learned why we’re not getting the most important things done. And I think we can overcome that corruption by uniting the American people and fixing a broken Washington. That’s work that I want to lead as the only candidate that’s actually won, as I said earlier, twice in a purple state.

I also am the only candidate who spent my early years after graduating from college wandering around the state of Ohio with Dick Celeste, who was then the governor of Ohio. And there’s not a corner of this state I haven’t seen or a town that I haven’t visited. I’m looking forward to making those visits again.

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