By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet can shed the less-than-flattering definitions bestowed upon him by his conservative critics.
He’s no longer “appointed Senator” Bennet, or even more degrading, “accidental Senator” Bennet.
No, the former superintendent of Denver Public Schools has won his first elected seat as a public servant, and it’s not just any seat, it’s a seat in the U.S. Senate, an elected position that most ambitious politicians work their entire professional careers to get to. Bennet did it in less than two years.
When he said goodbye to Denver Public Schools in January 2009 to head to Washington, after being appointed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, the Bennet bashing began. The entire Colorado political world was stunned that Ritter would have appointed a man with no experience in elected office to fill the vacant seat of veteran Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, now serving as Secretary of the Interior.
How could Ritter place Bennet in Washington over the likes of such Democratic heavyweights as the quirky Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the personable former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, and the popular Congressman from Lakewood Ed Perlmutter? But Ritter believed that Bennet was electable.
It turns out that Ritter was right. Bennet narrowly defeated Republican opponent Ken Buck yesterday by a mere 15,646 votes, as of 6 p.m. yesterday evening. He just barely avoided an automatic recount required under state law when there is a discrepancy of less than 12,000 votes.
Bennet survived an incredibly controversial and tightly contested primary against Romanoff, only to go on to fight one of the most difficult U.S. Senate races in the nation, if not the most competitive U.S. Senate race in the nation. Outside interest groups pumped more than $45 million into the two campaigns, fueling dozens of attack ads.
As much of the rest of the nation headed from blue to red, Bennet hung on into the early morning hours when it became more clear that he was going to pull off a victory not only for himself, but for Democrats across the nation who so desperately needed to hang onto the U.S. Senate seat.
“This election and our campaign was