Michael Bennet has two years to prove himself to CO voters

By A. James Memmott

January 7, 2009 at 10:15am

Michael Bennet may be rich and well connected, but he’s a political unknown in Colorado.

That’s why some people were surprised when Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter named Bennet last weekend to replace Ken Salazar in the U.S. Senate when Salazar becomes Interior secretary in the Obama administration.

And that’s also why Bennet is already acting as if the 2010 campaign for a full six-year term has begun.

Hoping to hit the ground running, Bennet has begun assembling a campaign staff, The Rocky Mountain News reports.

“There’s no secret why,” M.E. Sprengelmeyer writes. “Republicans are champing at the bit to take on Bennet, who is untested as a campaigner and a fundraiser and isn’t as well known as the man the GOP had been expecting to face, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.”

However, Bennet, 44, would seem to be a quick study, and he does have a track record of succeeding at new tasks.

He made millions in his first try working in business. And he’s generally given high marks for his work with the schools, though he never previously worked in education.

In addition, Bennet is no stranger to Washington and to politics, just as he is no stranger to the ways of the media.

His father, Douglas J. Bennet Jr., worked in the Carter administration and the first Clinton administration.

Between those stints, Douglas Bennet was head of National Public Radio. Later, he was president of Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Michael Bennet’s brother, James Bennet, was a political reporter for The New York Times, at one time covering the White House. He’s now the editor of The Atlantic Monthly.

Michael Bennet graduated from the private St. Alban’s School in Washington and went on to Wesleyan for his undergraduate degree. (He was there before his father’s presidency.)

After graduating from Yale Law School, he clerked for a federal judge and then worked in the Justice Department.

Bennett followed his wife, Susan Daggett, also a Yale Law graduate, to Denver in 1997 after she received a job offer from a non-profit environmental defense firm there.

Increasingly disinterested in the practice of law, Bennet landed a job in Denver with an investment firm run by Philip Anschutz.

Anschutz told Boo that he was concerned by Bennet’s lack of business experience, but he was impressed by his “quiet, understated intelligence.”

Starting at an entry-level position, Bennet became a managing director within years. Among other assignments, he helped consolidate three companies into the Regal Entertainment Group, the largest movie theater chain in the country.

Bennet made millions and could have made millions more, reports Katherine Boo in The New Yorker, but he left Anschutz in 2003 to become chief of staff for Hickenlooper, one of his good friends.

Two years later, he was named head of the Denver schools.

Boo notes that, at the time, “running an urban school district seemed more likely to end a political career than to launch it.”

On the other hand, success in an urban school district can’t hurt, and Bennet will surely run on his record as a change agent in his upcoming campaign.

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