Amid Anti-Incumbent Wave, Colorado Senator Wins

NPR's Melissa Block talks to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who won Tuesday's primary in Colorado. Bennet had the backing of President Obama, and his win may signal that the wave of anti-incumbency may not be as strong as it seemed.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour with politics. In Colorado, Democrats and Republicans chose candidates yesterday for their state's open Senate seat. And the winners tell two very different stories. On the Republican side, the candidate of the party establishment, the former lieutenant governor, lost to county prosecutor Ken Buck. He's a Tea Party favorite.

On the Democratic side, incumbent Michael Bennet also faced a spirited challenge from the left. Bennet was appointed to fill the seat 18 months ago. And with help from President Obama, he won big last night. I asked Senator Bennet if he thinks his victory means good news for incumbents elsewhere in the country.

Senator MICHAEL BENNET (Democrat, Colorado): I think all of these races, at the end of the day, are going to be decided on their own merits. And I think in my particular case, because I've spent my entire life outside of politics before I was put in this seat, I was able to make the case to people that I was bringing a completely different perspective than an ordinary politician, or an ordinary incumbent.

BLOCK: Your opponent, though, in the primary, Andrew Romanoff, and certainly your challenger in the race for November will be saying you are an incumbent. You are the Washington insider, and what we need is change.

Sen. BENNET: Well, I think what I'll say is that I've been there for 18 months, and it's enough to see that the place is not particularly responsive to the needs of Americans and Coloradans, going through the most savage economy since the Great Depression. And the people, you know, that go back there and just play political games and scream at each other and don't accomplish terribly much, are wasting everybody's time and energy.

BLOCK: I'd like to talk to you a bit about the White House role in your campaign. President Obama endorsed you, campaigned for you. Do you want his support on the campaign trail with you in the general election?

Sen. BENNET: Well, we'll look at all that over the next three months. I know the White House will look at it, too. It's always nice to be endorsed by the president. And I appreciated their help over the last 18 months.

BLOCK: Do you think that if you look at the general electorate, one-third of whom in Colorado are not affiliated with a party, does Barack Obama standing next to you in Colorado help or hurt?

Sen. BENNET: I don't know. I think it certainly helped during the primary, and we'll make a judgment going forward. I do believe that in a state where you've got a third Democratic voters, a third Republican voters, and a third unaffiliated -and everybody is independent-minded in this state - that what people are really interested in is less partisan solutions to problems, and more interested in trying to have people work together. It is a huge puzzle to people here why no one in Washington can seem to get along with each other.

BLOCK: What do you think accounts for the victory in the Republican primary yesterday of Ken Buck - not the choice of the Republican establishment, and a favorite of the Tea Party. What are voters saying there?

Sen. BENNET: Yeah, I mean, I think he just he was able to tap into an excited base of voters. He obviously ran a good primary campaign, and I congratulate him for it. I think that his views are far to the right of his party and don't reflect, you know, the mainstream in Colorado. But he certainly did what he needed to do to win this primary.

BLOCK: And Ken Buck does campaign as an outsider who's fed up with the Congress. You have been in Congress for 18 months now. Do you think that will work against you in the general election?

Sen. BENNET: I don't think so. I mean, I'm fed up too, but I'll tell you this -and as a father of three little girls - the answer is not to shut everything down or to stop progress or to say we can't fix it, just to throw mud at each other. We've got to fix it. You know, it's broken, and it needs to be fixed. If we can't fix it, we're going to be the first generation of Americans to leave less opportunity to our kids and our grandkids. And no one wants that.

BLOCK: Michael Bennet, thanks for talking with us.

Sen. BENNET: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. I'm going to go back and get some sleep.

BLOCK: Okay, thank you.

Sen. BENNET: Bye.

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