Politics & Government

While buried in the polls, this presidential candidate says a moderate like him can win

He won’t appear on this month’s debate stage with other Democratic presidential candidates. He barely registers in polls in South Carolina or other early-contest states.

But that doesn’t bother U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.

The longshot candidate believes his moderate views are more in keeping with those of American voters — and more likely to beat President Donald Trump — than the more progressive stands of rivals like Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

“I don’t want to spend the next 10 years fighting a losing battle for ‘Medicare for All,” he said. “I think the electorate is right where I am.”

Bennet spoke to a reporter in Charlotte Monday after spending the weekend in South Carolina and before heading off to New Hampshire. Earlier he had breakfast with Mayor Vi Lyles and City Council member Larken Egleston at the Original Pancake House.

Among Democratic candidates, Bennet has emerged as a moderate alternative to more progressive rivals. On health care, for example, he would build on the Affordable Care Act by adding a public option insurance plan.

“It used to be progressive to be for a public option,” he said over tea at his uptown hotel.

Bennet made similar points in Charleston Saturday at a Democratic gathering that also drew six other candidates. There he said Democrats need to reach the 9 million people who twice voted for Barack Obama and then voted for Trump.

“Our answer to that doesn’t have to be some radical plan that is inconsistent with American values,” he said in Charleston. “I think Americans are too smart for that. I think they’ve seen that movie before and that’s not what they want.”

Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist, said Bennet “registered zero percent” in the latest Winthrop Poll.

“But more importantly, this included no African Americans and only a couple of mentions from white voters, which rounded down to zero,” Huffmon said. “Getting no mentions by African American voters, who will make up over 60% of the S.C. Democratic Presidential Primary is the death knell of a Democratic Primary campaign in this state.”

Bennet said he’s turning most of his attention and resources to Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucus and other early contests.

“’Medicare for All’ and (promising) a bunch of free stuff,” he said, “isn’t a winning agenda in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.”