Bennet, Romanoff Vie For Colo. Senate Seat

Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Andrew Romanoff, democratic candidate for senate, Colorado
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

The Colorado democratic primary pits Sen. Michael Bennet against Andrew Romanoff, and president against president. Romanoff got the endorsement of former president Bill Clinton, but said that President Obama tried to get him out of the race. Romanoff trails in the polls, and in fundraising.

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TONY COX, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Tony Cox, in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

Key parts of Arizona's tough new immigration law may never see the light of day. Deal or no deal for Charlie Rangel? And if you can't join him, run against him. Tom Tancredo thumbs his nose at the GOP and tosses his hate into the Colorado governor's race as an independent. It's Wednesday and time for a Rocky Mountain high edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

COX: NPR's political editor Ken Rudin joins us every Wednesday to talk politics. This time the battle lines are drawn as a judge blocks the most controversial parts of Arizona's new immigration law. New York Congressman Charlie Rangel tries to make a deal to derail an expected House ethics trial.

President Obama fails in his push for campaign finance reform. And deep into primary season, the Colorado primary is particularly hot. The GOP is splintering, or is it, over third-party candidate Tom Tancredo's independent push for the statehouse. And today we focus on the Democrats, a race that pits president against former president. Candidates Andrew Romanoff and Senator Michael Bennet join us and take your calls.

Later in the show, NPR science correspondent Richard Harris drops by Studio 3A here to break down the latest news on the Gulf oil spill and whether we've turned the corner on that disaster.

But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin here with us as he is each and every week. Hello, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Tony.

COX: It is wonderful to see you, and as always I know that you have a trivia question.

RUDIN: It just so happens I do. Okay, in yesterday's Oklahoma primary, Congresswoman Mary Fallin won the Republican nomination for governor. She's favored to win the seat in November. Here's the question: Who was the last female member of Congress to win election as governor?

COX: Hmm, interesting question.

RUDIN: Kind of.

COX: If you think you know the answer, give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation at our website. Just go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

You know, Neal's not here. So I'm assuming I should just read this question one more time in case somebody didn't get it.

RUDIN: You could.

COX: Let's do that. In yesterday's Oklahoma primary, Congresswoman Mary Fallin won the Republican nomination for governor, and she is favored to win the job in November. Who was the last female member of Congress to win election as governor?

All right. There's a lot of stuff, man, to talk about this week.

RUDIN: There is, and one of the things we could talk about is Mary Fallin's victory in yesterday's Republican primary in Oklahoma, and the only reason I think that's interesting is because the winner of the Democratic primary, Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins is also a woman. So for one of the rare times in history you have two women running against each other for governor.

Hopefully one day we won't have to point out that two women are running because it's always two men who are running, but historic - Oklahoma will elect its first female governor in November.

COX: Didn't one of them succeed one of the other in office?

RUDIN: Yeah, well, actually, before Mary Fallin was elected to Congress in 2006, she had been lieutenant governor herself, and then when the Democrats took over the governorship in 2000 and - after Mary Fallin left the lieutenant governorship, the Democrats won that.

So Askins succeeded her, succeeded Fallin as lieutenant governor. Both are running for governor now.

COX: Now, did I also see, Ken, that this is happening also in - was it New Mexico?

RUDIN: New Mexico, right. Susana Martinez is the Republican. Diane Denish is the Democratic lieutenant governor, hoping to succeed Bill Richardson, and the first time it ever happened, as you well remember, was 1986 in Nebraska, when Kay Orr defeated Helen Boosalis. There'll be a test, there'll be a quiz right after show.

COX: Let me take notes.

RUDIN: But anyway, it is pretty historic stuff, and of course Mary Fallin - the Republicans are favored to win this. Democrat Brad Henry is term-limited.

COX: Here's our first caller, number three. This is Bob in Rochester, New York. Hello, Bob.

BOB (Caller): Hello. This is Bob Sixta(ph) in Rochester, Minnesota, saying hi to his son, Joe Sixta(ph), and his wife, Lindsay(ph). Joe is also a trivia - a T-shirt winner.

RUDIN: How does Bob get away with this every week? Okay.

BOB: Okay, thank you, Neal - or Ken. The answer, I believe, is Ann Richards of Texas.

RUDIN: Ann Richards, who was governor, elected governor of Texas, was never elected to the House of Representatives. It is not Ann Richards.

BOB: Oh, I thought it was for Congress.

RUDIN: For Congress. She was never elected to Congress. She never ran for Congress.

COX: Thank you, Bob, for that. All right, well...

RUDIN: She had been state treasurer, then was elected governor, and then lost to a guy named George W. Bush in 1994.

COX: All right, let's try Peter in Columbus, Ohio. Hello, Peter, what's the answer?

PETER (Caller): Hi, is it Mary Landrieu of Louisiana?

RUDIN: Well, Mary Landrieu actually was never elected governor. She ran for governor and lost before she was elected to the Senate. I'm looking for somebody who served in Congress and then was elected governor. Landrieu ran for governor but didn't make it.

COX: All right, we have another caller. This time it's Jason. He's on the line from Farmington Hills, Michigan. Hello, Jason.

JASON (Caller): Ella Grasso.

RUDIN: Ella Grasso is the correct answer, and not only is it the correct answer, she is the only female member of Congress ever elected governor. She was elected governor of Connecticut in 1974, the first woman, by the way, to win election on her own, not having succeeded her husband, like Lurleen Wallace did, things like that. So that is the correct answer.

COX: Well, great. Congratulations, Jason. We put you on hold. Do we give these people something for getting...

RUDIN: We do. We give them a very valuable T-shirt that I often appear in and pose in on my blog site.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: I can hardly wait to see that. Thank you very much. Well, we got an answer quickly that time. People are paying attention.

RUDIN: Yeah. Well, actually, there haven't been - sadly, there have not been that many women elected governor. But this year, I think there's like nine or 10 women with good shots: Nikki Haley in South Carolina; you have, of course, you'll have a woman for the first time in New Mexico. So things on the gubernatorial front at least seem to be improving for female candidates.

COX: Interesting. We have a woman running for California governor as well.

RUDIN: You do, Meg Whitman, who is only spending a hundred gazillion dollars to run against Jerry Brown, and Meg Whitman announced this week that she will not run for president. And, of course, Jerry Brown, having run for president three times already, maybe that's the difference.

But Whitman-Brown still very, very close for November.

COX: Absolutely. Let's move back inside the Beltway if we can for just a moment, talk about some of the events that have been taking place here this week, Ken, beginning with Charlie Rangel. Where does this ethics trial stand right now? We don't have the trial itself, but are we going to have a trial?

RUDIN: The way it stands right now is, of course, Charlie Rangel has been accused of many financial improprieties, ethics violations. He insists he is not guilty, and he is not - he insists that he will run for the seat he's held since 1970, will run for re-election, will not step down.

So it looks like there will be a special ethics panel tomorrow, Thursday, that will spell out the charges against Charlie Rangel, that he took corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean, that he had a villa in the Dominican Republic that he did not list his profits, the money he made on it, nor paid taxes for it, that he had four rent-stabilized apartments in New York City well below market price that really gave him an unfair advantage.

Now, here is the problem. Many of the Democrats are saying, look, the reason the Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, or at least one of the reasons, was this culture of corruption that Nancy Pelosi talked about, that she would drain the swamp of corruption, Republican corruption like Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham and Mark Foley and things like that.

And now the Democrats have their own potential culture of corruption. So a lot of new members of Congress, freshmen members of Congress from conservative Republican districts, the last thing they want is to have to defend Charlie Rangel against a barrage of Republican attack ads in the fall.

At the same time, the Congressional Black Caucus says, look, just remember what happened to Shirley Sherrod. Everybody jumped, you know, rushed to judgment on her. She was the one who of course was outed with the Andrew Breitbart stuff.

COX: Absolutely.

RUDIN: With the doctored video. And they said, you know, everybody jumped - rushed to judgment on her. Hold your horses on Charlie Rangel. He could very well be innocent. So there's a big - there's tremendous pressure on Rangel to admit to some crimes or to confess to some things rather than have a full-blown trial...

COX: Well, here's the thing then that I don't quite understand, talking about Charlie Rangel. In fact, let me do this. Let me play a clip from him and ask you a question about the thing that he says in this clip. This is Congressman Charlie Rangel.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Representative CHARLIE RANGEL (Democrat, New York): I don't have any fear at all, politically or personally, what they come up with. So I don't feel badly. Why would I feel bad when I've asked them for two years? So this is it, and it's what I've been waiting for, and we'll see what happens.

COX: So here's my question: He says he's waiting for the trial, presumably to clear his name, and yet at the same time we hear - and even he admitted - you know, they're cutting a deal if they can to prevent this trial from taking place.

RUDIN: Well, remember back earlier in this year, Charlie Rangel said he would definitely not - there's no way he would resign as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and yet he did resign.

This could be Charlie Rangel bravado. Charlie Rangel is known for a lot of bravado. The New York Times editorial this week said that he has portrayed a sense of entitlement that has taken over his career. And he's been in Congress since 1971, 40 years, half of his 80-year time on Earth.

But anyway, the last thing the Democrats want - look, they caught a break with the Blagojevich trial ending as early as it did. They were so afraid that we'd see the specter of Rod Blagojevich testifying throughout the fall, endangering Democratic seats in Illinois and elsewhere, and they caught a break. But now they don't want another spectacle with Charlie Rangel.

COX: All right, let's move to Colorado. We're going to be talking about the Democratic race for Senate there. But let's talk about the gubernatorial race and Tom Tancredo before we get to that.

As a matter of fact, here's a clip of Tom Tancredo appearing on the show, on a radio show there, at the same time with the head of the state Republican Party. And it started out - well, listen.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. TOM TANCREDO (Independent Gubernatorial Candidate, Colorado): I am trying my best, my level best, to do what I believe is necessary for the conservatives in this state. I don't want Hickenlooper as governor.

COX: All right, and this is what it turned into very quickly.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Unidentified Man #1: I was stunned that he would even bring it up.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, yeah, you were flabbergasted. You were going to go right to the phone and call people.

Unidentified Man #1: And then you wouldn't even return my phone calls.

COX: So they got into it over whether or not the Republicans really want the candidates who they have running for governor as Republicans. And Tancredo says okay, that's why I'm going independent.

RUDIN: Well, Tom Tancredo said, look, if Scott McInnis or Dan Mays -those are the two Republicans who have been running for governor - if polls show they cannot beat John Hickenlooper, who is the mayor of Denver, who is the Democratic nominee for the governorship, if the polls show that neither can win, then you should get out, and if you don't get out, then I'm getting in.

And the two Republicans said to Tancredo, well, we're not getting out. So he said, okay, I'll run as a candidate of the American Constitution Party.

What's so strange about this is that Tancredo seems to be so afraid that Hickenlooper, the Democrat, could win the governorship, but him running as a third-party candidate - guaranteed to split conservative votes -would help the Democrats anyway.

Tancredo, former member of Congress, ran for president in 2008 on a strict anti-illegal-immigration ticket. The American Constitution Party is really pretty conservative, to say the least. It wants to, I think, abolish the 20th century.

But anyway, so Tancredo, whatever he's doing, that battle we just heard with Dick Wadhams, the chairman of the Republican Party, is going to hurt Republican chances in Colorado.

COX: It was very interesting. There was so much. We didn't get enough time to talk about that, but we're going to talk more about the politics in Colorado in a moment. Ken Junk - Ken Rudin is...

RUDIN: Ken Junk?

COX: Ken Rudin, the Political Junkie, he's going to stick around with us, and then we're also going to have candidates Andrew Romanoff and Senator Michael Bennet joining us in just a few moments.

We want to hear from the voters in Colorado: 800-989-8255. The email, talk@npr.org. I'm Tony Cox. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Tony Cox.

It's Wednesday, and that means Ken Rudin is here, NPR's political editor and our Political Junkie each and every week. You can also read his blog and solve his ScuttleButton puzzle. Go to npr.org/junkie for that.

And today is Rocky-Mountain-high edition of the Political Junkie for good reason. We have a number of tight primaries ahead of us over the next few weeks. But today it's all about Colorado, specifically the lively Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Andrew Romanoff, the former speaker of the House in Colorado, in the legislature there, is facing off against Senator Michael Bennet. We'll talk with both of them.

And we want to hear from the voters in Colorado, by the way. What do you want to ask the candidates? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Just go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

First we have Andrew Romanoff. He joins us on the line now from his campaign headquarters in Denver. Welcome, sir.

Mr. ANDREW ROMANOFF (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Colorado): Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.

COX: Question number one: What differentiates you from Senator Michael Bennet?

Mr. ROMANOFF: A lot. I have a record of legislative leadership. I've been recognized, in fact, as one of the most effective legislative leaders in America. That's why President Clinton endorsed my campaign just a few weeks ago.

I know the state better than anybody else. My campaign is funded, literally, by the people of Colorado. I don't take a dime of special interest money. And my opponent and I differ on virtually every area of public policy, including health care, financial reform, energy and the environment.

The agenda I've laid out is more consistent with the concerns of ordinary Coloradans and more likely to produce the results we need in Washington.

COX: You recently sold your Denver home to help pay for your campaign, which raises the question of whether or not you can afford to stay in the race.

Mr. ROMANOFF: Of course I can. In fact, we're winning this race. We just recorded our best quarter ever. We're about to wrap up the best month of fundraising we've had.

It's true that I devoted the resources from the sale of my house to our campaign, but the money I'm putting in from that effort amounts to roughly a quarter of the $1.3 million my opponent has taken from insurance companies, drug companies, big Wall Street banks, the oil industry.

I think the special interests have enough politicians on their payroll. We need a senator for the rest of us.

RUDIN: Mr. Romanoff, there's a lot of talk about - we talk about money, and of course (unintelligible) stay in the race, is only - the primary is only two weeks away.

But Ben has raised some seven and a half, eight million dollars. He is the choice of the White House. You must be under tremendous pressure not to have made - to have ended this challenge.

Mr. ROMANOFF: First, you can help the level the playing field by logging on to andrewromanoff.com and contributing 10 bucks right. I bet if everybody in your listening audience did that, this race would be over, and we'd win and send a shockwave to the folks in Washington.

You're right, by the way. There are a lot of folks in D.C. who didn't want me to run, but that's fine. I'm not running to represent the people of Washington. I'm running to represent the people of Colorado.

RUDIN: But you're basically, by doing that, you're really - I mean, the White House has made it clear that they stand by their incumbents, that Governor Ritter appointed Michael Bennet, and that's the way it should be, and you're not only running against the establishment, whatever that is, but the White House as well.

Mr. ROMANOFF: I don't see it that way. I respect and support the president, and I'm looking forward to working with him. You're right. The White House has endorsed incumbents in Pennsylvania, in Arkansas, in Colorado - throughout the country they made clear their preference for the status quo.

Now, with all due respect, I'd also point out that this decision gets made by the voters of Colorado, and only one of them, the governor, really cast a ballot a year and a half ago. There are three million other registered voters in this state, including a million registered Democrats and a million unaffiliated voters who, by the way, can also participate in the primary by picking a party before August 10.

So it seems to me they should have some say in who represents our state over the next six years.

RUDIN: I know the only poll that matters is the one on election day. We always that, of course. But - and I've seen a lot of surveys that show that the party activists support your candidacy, but most polls of the expected turnout on August 10th show Bennet with a sizable lead. How do you account for that, aside from the money, and how do make up that difference?

Mr. ROMANOFF: That doesn't match our findings. You're right, some of the newspapers that have endorsed my opponent have done polls that show the same thing.

But look, in the results we've received from the field, the folks who are actually voting right now, since a lot of counties are conducting this primary by mail, and certainly the 21-point victory we saw at the state convention, the grassroots strength we've demonstrated throughout this campaign, I believe we're going to win.

And of course I wouldn't have sold my house if I didn't believe that.

COX: Here's a question that comes from Angela in Denver, Mr. Romanoff. She asks: When you were speaker of the House, you led a special session on immigration and then proclaimed that thanks to that session, Colorado had the toughest legislature on immigration. Has your stance on immigration changed, or do you still hope Colorado maintains the toughest immigration law?

Mr. ROMANOFF: What I said in 2006, and I'll tell you today, is that we need comprehensive immigration reform at a national level.

My opponent's campaign is engaged in a great deal of disinformation. Part of the advantage, I suppose, of not having any legislative experience is you can duck debates, as he's done, and dodge difficult decisions.

The caller is right. The governor of Colorado called a special session in 2006, and I brokered a compromise between two opposing parties over a constitutional amendment.

We made clear under Colorado law, just as the federal law already provided, that recipients of certain public benefits need to establish their lawful presence in the state.

But at the end of the day, what I said then and what I still believe now is the federal government needs to act. No state can solve this issue on its own. What we need at a national level and what we haven't gotten is greater border security and immigration reform.

I've laid out a 10-point plan along those lines at my website, andrewromanoff.com.

COX: Here's another caller. This is Craig from Montrose, Colorado, asking - well, Craig, ask your question yourself. Craig? Hello, Craig, are you there?

CRAIG (Caller): Yes.

COX: All right.

CRAIG: I wanted to ask Mr. Romanoff if he would be willing to go on the record and pledge not to take PAC money if and when he wins as U.S. senator for Colorado, you know, through the six years and into the re-election campaign if he so chooses.

COX: Thank you, Craig.

Mr. ROMANOFF: Yes, I make that pledge here. I've made it throughout this campaign, and I'm the only candidate in this race - by the way, I'm one of the few in America - to refuse contributions from special interest groups. I'm glad you asked, Craig.

COX: Here's another caller. This is Amy in Denver. Amy, you are on TALK OF THE NATION, welcome.

AMY (Caller): Thank you. Mr. Bennet - I'm sorry, Mr. Romanoff, I am a -I'm a Democrat in Denver, and I'm fairly new to Colorado. And I went to the caucuses, and I saw that my - many of my neighbors were supporting you.

But my concern is that the Democratic Party has worked so hard to turn Colorado into a blue state over the last four, five, six years, and my concern is that your campaign has really portrayed Senator Bennet in quite a negative light, and how will you feel if you are the candidate, or if he is the candidate, and then the Democrats lose this election and lose this Senate seat, sort of because of some of the negative campaigning that's taken place in Colorado?

Mr. ROMANOFF: I accept part of your premise. You're right that we've worked hard - I've worked hard, frankly, to lead the first Democratic majority in the House in 30 years. I built the largest Democratic majority Colorado has seen since John Kennedy was president. I'm proud of that effort, and I intend to keep Colorado blue.

I wouldn't be running, obviously, if I not only thought I had the best ability to serve but also the best chance to win. And it's telling that in spite of the nearly $5 million my opponent has sunk into this campaign over the last 18 months, I do better than he does against both of the leading Republican candidates.

So I submit if you want to hold this seat in November, you'd be better to nominate me. I also take exception to the description the caller offered of the advertising we're running.

It's true, we point out that my opponent is one of the top recipients of Wall Street cash and big oil money. We also pointed out that he voted to protect tax breaks for big oil companies and against a proposal that would have prevented banks from becoming too big to fail.

So if you're embarrassed by the money you take or the votes you cast, and you're my opponent, you ignore the argument and instead attack your opponent. That's what he's doing in the course of his advertising, which is misleading and defamatory.

COX: All right. I appreciate your coming on. Andrew Romanoff is the former speaker of the House in the Colorado state legislature, and he is now running for U.S. Senate against Michael Bennet. He joined us on the line from his campaign headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Thank you.

Mr. ROMANOFF: Thank you.

COX: Senator Michael Bennet was named to fill the United States Senate seat vacated by Ken Salazar, and he is now running against Andrew Romanoff. He joins us on the line from Capitol Hill here in Washington, D.C. Senator, nice to have you on as well, sir.

Senator MICHAEL BENNET (Democrat, Colorado): No, it's nice to be with you, thanks.

COX: Same question to you that we put to Mr. Romanoff: What differentiates you from him as a candidate?

Sen. BENNET: Well, you know, I'd answer the question the same way whether Andrew was in the race or not, which is that I have not spent my life in politics. This is the first time I've ever run for office before. I think that probably shows.

But I bring a lifetime of experience outside of politics, in business and most recently in leading a reform effort of the Denver public schools as the superintendent.

And I think that one of the things I've detected about this town is that it's not a place that's very long on practical experience. There's a lot of well-intentioned legislation that's passed that by the time it gets, for example, to a classroom in our country, it makes very little sense to the teacher and the kids that are there.

So I've tried to bring a perspective that's based on being outside of politics, being on the receiving end of people's ideas there, and I think that's of use to Colorado.

COX: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Senator Bennet, when you were first appointed to the seat, and obviously there was a long list of Democrats who would have loved that appointment, a lot of people said that the only reason there's a primary right here is ambition, the fact that Romanoff wasn't appointed to the seat and wanted it badly and you got the appointment instead, do you see it as just a thwarted ambition, or do you see a real difference of -between two candidates?

Sen. BENNET: I have yet to detect a material policy difference between the two candidates, and my focus throughout the primary before there was a primary and to today is exactly the same and unchanged. And it's attempting to try to create a Washington that's responsive to an American public that is going through the worst recession since the Great Depression, and coming out, by the way, a period of economic growth over the last 10 years, when it was the first time in our country's history that our economy grew and median family income fell.

That has created an incredible dislocation in Colorado and across the United States. In Colorado, families are earning a thousand dollars less on average than they were 10 years ago, and their cost of health insurance has gone up 97 percent. Their cost of higher education has gone up by 50 percent. So there is an anxiety that, collectively, we are a part of the generation that may be the first generation of Americans to leave less opportunity, not more, to our kids and our grandkids. That's the perspective that I brought irrespective of whether there's been a primary or not.

COX: We have a caller from Denver, Colorado, for you, sir. Her name is Jolene. Jolene, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

JOLENE (Caller): Hi. Senator Bennet, I'm curious about - and I feel like one of the most important things right now that we need from a senator is the ability to work across the aisle. And I think we all know many of the votes oftentimes are across party lines. What I would like to find out from you is what are some specific examples you can give us of how you have reached across the party lines?

Sen. BENNET: Thanks, Jolene. I appreciate it very much. Just today, I testified in front of the Rules Committee. I was invited to testify there about some proposals I've made to change the filibuster rules. And those proposals are unique because they are designed to do exactly what you described, which is inspire people to work across the line, across the partisan line, rather than have the hyperpartisanship that's going on in Washington. So you can get information about that rule on the website.

Two other specific examples, we recently just passed a bill that I introduced last year called the Pay it Back Act that said that the money that was sent back, paid back by the financial institutions in this country, the TARP money, should be used dollar for dollar for deficit reduction. That was a bill that - Senator Corker from Tennessee and I were the original cosponsors on it - passed with broad bipartisan support, and is now the law of the land.

The last piece I'd mention here is the bill called Troops to Teachers, which will make it easier for our returning veterans to serve in America's classrooms. John McCain and I are the original cosponsors of that legislation.

I think that people in our state are sick and tired of the partisanship, and I've worked very hard to try to bridge the divide.

COX: Thank you for that call. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

All right, let's go to another call. This is Richard from San Luis Valley. Richard, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

RICHARD (Caller): Good afternoon. I'm a Vietnam War veteran, and I'm interested about veteran support in rural areas. From the San Luis Valley, we either have to go to Denver or Albuquerque for most of our medical support. That's about 300 miles. It seems to be a long way for veterans, especially our World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans. What can you do about that?

COX: Thank you.

Sen. BENNET: Thank you for your service, and thank you for the question. I've had a veterans tour around the state over the last year, including in Alamosa and the San Luis Valley and other places, and you're absolutely right. We're under-serving our veterans that are living in rural areas, and a high percentage of returning vets end up living in rural areas.

In Colorado, we're trying to make progress by making sure that we've got the funding in place that we need to serve not just the returning vets from Afghanistan and Iraq, but from the wars that you mentioned, as well. I've also seen some incredible examples in our state of telemedicine, which is allowing veterans to have checkups and other things without having to drive long distances to Denver or other places.

So this is very much on my mind, and any veterans that are listening can go to my website. And there's a button right on the front of it where you can click and fill out a form, and we can help you get your benefits. So thank you for the question.

COX: Ken?

RUDIN: Senator Bennet, two quickie questions. One, Andrew Romanoff has accused you of being - of basically taking PAC money from everybody, and that's part of why you have raised so much money and - your response to that? And two, obviously, President Obama was pretty popular two years ago. He carried Colorado, the first Democrat to do that in a long time. What is President Obama's numbers looking like in Colorado, and would he be an asset for you in the fall campaign?

Sen. BENNET: Well, the first - the answer to the first question, first of all, is that if you look at the entire congressional delegation in Colorado, I have - as a percentage of the total amount of money I've raised, raised the least percentage from political action committees, and in fact - except for Jared Polis, who doesn't take PAC money at all - and in fact, as a percentage, less than half of some of the people in the delegation. So the idea, first of all, that it's some outsized part of what I've raised just isn't right.

And second, I have - I am proud of this. We've got 20,000 - more than 20,000 donors to this campaign from all across the state and the country, and that's a large number of donors. And I think it represents the broad base of support that we have.

The second question about the president's poll numbers, I haven't seen any recent numbers. Obviously, he won the state by seven points. He's in tougher shape now than he was during the election, but I think that's largely because of the economic difficulties that families across our state are continuing to face. And in the face of those difficulties, they scratch their heads and wonder why everybody back in Washington is screaming at each other.

It's created a huge sense of dislocation, and I think that it's incumbent on the people that are in this - in these jobs and running these campaigns to be developing and - a positive vision of where this country is headed. And we're not seeing enough of that, in Washington or on the campaign trail.

COX: Senator, thank you very much. Our time is up. Senator Michael Bennett faces Andrew Romanoff in Colorado's Democratic primary next month. He joined us on the line from Capitol Hill, here in Washington. Once again, Senator, thank you very much.

Sen. BENNETT: Thanks so much for having me.

COX: And thank you, Ken. I guess we say this every Wednesday, because you're just great at what you do at NPR.

RUDIN: Yes, but Neal doesn't mean it the way you mean it.

COX: Well, of course.

RUDIN: Yeah.

COX: NPR's political editor and our Political Junkie. Read his blog and download his podcast at npr.org/junkie. Ken, we'll talk to you next week.

And coming up, the well is capped in the Gulf. You don't see much oil on the surface. We will be talking with NPR's Richard Harris about whether or not the worst is behind us, and what's still left to be done.

I'm Tony Cox. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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