New Senate money man Michael Bennet has had fast rise to power


In appointing Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet as the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee the party will be getting a representative from a crucial western swing state whose 2010 election served as a model for President Barack Obama forging his winning campaign strategy.

Bennet first entered the Senate in 2009 as an appointee after then-Sen. Ken Salazar left Congress to serve as President Obama's secretary of the Interior. Plucked from his job as superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Bennet had never held elected office. But he went on to narrowly win a hotly contested race against GOP challenger Ken Buck, which drew more outside spending than any other Senate race in the country that year.

Bennet won by carefully targeting women and Hispanics, important constituents in a state that is famously split nearly into thirds for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. In 2012, Obama was reported to be taking a page from Bennet's playbook in putting together a simiar voting coalition. 

Bennet was also quite successful in raising old-fashioned "hard money" contributions, collecting more than $11 million to Buck's $4.9 million for the 2010 race. While he was not up for reelection this year, he nevertheless has raised more than $850,000. Fifty-seven percent of his cash comes from out of state donors, with New York City and Los Angeles being major sources of money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Lawyers and lawfirms are the most generous industry funding his campaign warchest, with Wall Street running second.

Sunlight's Party Time project has collected two dozen fundraising invitations for Bennet, most of them Washington affairs, including this upcoming event hosted by lobbyist Louis Dupart, who has specialized in seeking earmarks for Colorado.

Bennet has worked to raise his centrist profile, recently proposing an "emergency backup plan" along with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tenn., to go into effect if negotiations fail on the budget impasse. 

Before serving as Denver's schools superintendent, Bennet was a top aide to then Mayor, now Gov. John Hickenlooper. Before that he worked as a corporate turnaround expert for Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz. His brother is James Bennet, editor in chief of the Atlantic magazine.