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Bennet Works to Burnish Rookie Image, Even in D.C.

In a year when voters have shown a reluctance to embrace establishment candidates, Sen. Michael Bennet is making a concerted effort to let voters know this is his first election ever. However, having been in office for nearly two years, the Colorado Democrat has more legislative chops than most rookie campaigners.

Speaking with reporters Thursday at a briefing hosted by Third Way, a Democratic-leaning think tank, Bennet emphasized his career outside of politics and defended the votes that he’s cast since entering the political realm. That includes his support for the economic stimulus bill, which the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacks him for in a TV ad on the air in Colorado.

“I’ve been here for 21 months. I’ve never run for office before. The first time my name has ever been on a ballot for anything was the primary election. And unlike a lot of people here, I’ve spent my entire life outside of politics,” Bennet said Thursday.

With a rising national debt and nearly 10 percent unemployment, Republicans are pushing the storyline that Bennet is already part of the problem. Along with the NRSC ad, American Crossroads, a group founded by former presidential adviser Karl Rove, is also on the air targeting Bennet with an ad criticizing him for saying that “we have nothing to show for” the country’s $13 trillion debt.

“It’s amazing,” Bennet said. “If you look at the advertising that’s been run against me, one by Karl Rove’s 527, you’ll see he treats my statement as an indictment somehow of what I’m trying to say instead of as an indictment of what those guys did, which is the point I was trying to make.”

Bennet said Republican attacks on Democrats for a bloated debt are disingenuous, as they leave out the role the Bush administration and Republicans then in control of Congress played in its doubling after President Bill Clinton’s exit from office.

“We fought two wars, we borrowed the money from our kids to pay for it and we cut taxes during wartime for the first time in the history of the United States,” Bennet said. “That’s how we got from $5 trillion to $10 trillion. And the people who are attacking me on this who contributed to that ought to own that.”

Bennet restated his lack of support for President Barack Obama’s plan to spend an additional $50 billion, saying the money from the first stimulus bill should be spent first. And while noting it hasn’t done everything he had hoped, Bennet defended the $787 billion package.

“I think the recovery package saved us from falling not just into the worst recession since the Great Depression, but another Great Depression,” he said. “But that’s not saying an awful lot from the vantage point of our kids. It seems to be not a sufficient standard for success or for progress.”

Bennet’s opponent, Republican Ken Buck, launched an ad Thursday that again hits Bennet for supporting the Democratic agenda in Washington, D.C.

“Michael Bennet’s votes are so bad, he can’t defend them,” Buck says in the ad. “What’s unfair to Colorado is Bennet’s record of overspending, overregulating and overtaxing. A rubber stamp for his friends in Washington.”

Bennet told reporters that Buck is “very extreme on a number of issues from Colorado’s point of view.” In describing his campaign strategy against Buck, Bennet again brought up his real-world experience.

“The voters in Colorado who do understand the seriousness of the economic situation we’re in today are going to have a choice between somebody who has business experience, has never been a politician before, who has a sense that these are big structural issues we have to deal with,” Bennet said, “versus a candidate who‘s going to solve the economic problems with a bunch of sound bites that got us into this mess in the first place.”

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