Wake-Up Call: Senator Bennet rolls up his sleeves

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Business boosters at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce didn't know what had hit them. On Friday, when Senator Mark Udall offered a healthcare briefing at the Chamber, there hadn't been a single member of the media. But on Monday, when Senator Michael Bennet did the same, the TV cameras were rolling from the moment Bennet got out of his car.

What a difference a weekend makes. On Saturday, news had leaked that Bennet, appointed to fill Ken Salazar's seat back in January, might face a challenge from former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff. And that -- as well as a weekend advisory from Bennet's office about his speech, a "call for bringing fiscal discipline back to Washington" -- was enough to bring the press.

Bennet didn't address the rumors that had brought out the reporters. Instead, he took off his suit coat to offer a straightforward, smart presentation on healthcare reform and the fiscal crisis, complete with slides that his staff had prepared for similar presentations around the state. (By mid-month, Bennet will have visited all 64 Colorado counties.) Unlike the crowds that have swamped other meetings across the country, this one was very well-behaved -- so well-behaved that Bennet forgot to issue his standard intro, to "forget what political party you belong to, forget what cable station you watch," until the very end.

By then, he'd fielded questions -- from chamber members only, please -- about small businesses, about the difference between juvenile diabetes and adult-onset diabetes, about tort reform. And that last question he swatted down, fast, by pointing out that Colorado tort reforms in the '80s made that issue a non-starter in this state. To another, he said he'd have to think about it while he continued talking, which he did, coming up with a well-rounded answer in the process.

In all, it was an impressive appearance, and much better, one chamber member confided, than Udall's had been three days earlier. It made you want to hear more, much more, from Senator Bennet -- even if it's during debates with would-be Senator Romanoff.

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