It’s a policy puzzle inside an electoral enigma.
Which of their presidential candidates gives Democrats the best chance of beating President Trump?
For my money, it’s Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He offers a winning combination of progressive but achievable plans, electability and experience, political skill and likability.
But how, you may ask, can a candidate who is a primary-season long shot be the Democrats’ best chance at retaking the White House? Start here: Whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will inherit at least the same 48 percent of the national vote that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Given the importance of ousting Trump, he or she should have the party’s top organizing, messaging, and fund-raising talent rushing to help.
It’s imperative that any nominee be the beneficiary of such an all-hands-on-deck effort, regardless of intraparty disagreements. Still, it would be best to have a ticket-topper with practical progressive plans, plans that are broadly acceptable to general-election voters and thus don’t hand the Republicans a club with which to pummel both the nominee and the party’s congressional candidates.
After all, as Bennet told attendees at a town hall in Manchester on Monday, to make real change, it’s not enough simply to claim the presidency. Democrats must also hold the House and retake the Senate. For that, the party needs a nominee who can win in swing states, something Bennet has twice done in purple Colorado.
So what’s his message to New Hampshire Democratic primary voters, who like to go with a neighbor and this year have three — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Deval Patrick — in the hunt?
“Colorado is a lot closer politically to New Hampshire than Massachusetts is,” Bennet replies. Or as he tells the audience, to build an enduring governing coalition, Democrats “have to win in states like Iowa and Colorado and . . . New Hampshire and Maine and Arizona. Running in these states is not the same as running in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
At 55, and with 11 years in the Senate, Bennet has the right combination of age and experience for the presidency. Further, his proposals are smart, targeted, and relatively affordable.
By now, it should be apparent that no matter how appealing it may be to the Democratic left, a hugely expensive plan to push all Americans into a mandatory government-run single-payer system while eliminating private health insurance, is a decidedly dubious prescription for a long-coat-tailed general-election success.
For his part, Bennet has long backed adding a Medicare-like public option to the Affordable Care Act. His “Real Deal” policy agenda calls for hiking the child and earned-income tax credits, and making the latter a monthly payment, as a way to help hard-pressed families. As the former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, he calls for free preschool. He’d invest another $50 billion a year in helping noncollege America get the skills needed to earn a living wage. That means transforming high school so that kids graduate with a year of community college as well. Part of that money would go for apprenticeships programs and wage supplements for employers who train and retain vulnerable workers.
“It’s almost Bolshevik,” Bennet jokes. Though he hasn’t joined the free-college bidding war, he does favor debt-free public college for low- and moderate-income kids.
On climate, his plans have the usual Democratic urgency, but with an interesting market-driving twist: a requirement that power companies offer zero-emissions energy as an option for all households and firms.
He’s also shown how he could realistically pay for his proposals. He calls for repealing the Trump tax cuts, adding a new top income-tax rate of 44 percent, taxing capital gains as ordinary income, raising the estate tax, and closing business loopholes and breaks, among other things.
An affable guy who doesn’t come off as an ideologue or an elitist, Bennet is someone who could turn aside Trump’s attacks with a roll of the eyes and a witty retort — and get open-minded America to do the same.
Asked to assess his chances, Bennet is refreshingly candid.
“I think it is a long shot, but I think it’s possible,” he tells me.
That’s up to you, New Hampshire. If you say it’s possible next Tuesday, it is.