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Michael Bennet slams "idiotic" DNC rules that kept him out of debate

Michael Bennet on missing Ohio debate

The day after the fourth Democratic presidential debate, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet slammed what he called the "idiotic" Democratic National Committee rules that kept him out of last night's contest. 

"One of my frustrations about watching people on that debate last night is there are some people on that debate stage polling below me right now," Bennet told approximately two dozen voters at an event in New Hampshire. 

"They came into the race and they were polling at like 12%. Now they're at zero, one or two percent," he added. "And they're still up there because of the idiotic DNC rules, which makes them seem more viable than I am, but I'm not sure they are. And I'm totally unconvinced that they have a better chance at beating Donald Trump than I do."

Bennet did not qualify for last night's debate, because he met neither the polling nor the fundraising thresholds. 

The senator said he has "thoughts" about which other candidates might be able to defeat President Trump — although when asked for specific names, he declined to comment. 

Bennet did tell CBS News that there were multiple topics missing from last night's showcase, including a detailed discussion of health care. "What was missing was Elizabeth Warren's explanation for how she's going to pay for 'Medicare for All,'" he said. "She's got every plan on the earth but the main plan, which would cost $33 trillion."

Bennet is the first to admit he's not a "barn burner" when it comes to stump speeches. When he met with Barack Obama before launching his presidential bid, Bennet said, the president offered some advice. 

"One thing he said was, 'Michael this thing is a circus. You've got to learn to perform in the circus.'" Bennet recalled, adding "And I do think there are better circus performers than I."

But in January 2019, the Colorado senator went viral for targeting his colleague Senator Ted Cruz in a fiery Senate speech centered on 2013's partial government shutdown. 

That speech, Bennet told voters, demonstrates his ability to take on the current administration and perform when it matters. "If you watch the speech with Cruz on the floor, I think it will give you a sense of my capabilities to push back on someone who needs to be pushed back on," Bennet said. "Because he's a treasonous mf," he added of President Trump.  

Bennet's face flushed as he recognized the camera in the corner of the room. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't realize, I didn't realize. Can you—" The senator cut the air with his palm, as though to cancel what he had just said.

But the Senator's fiery stump continued. He didn't pull any punches, even when it came to members of his own party.

The former superintendent of Denver school district listed his former responsibilities, which included managing a billion-dollar budget. "For reference, that's about three times the budget of South Bend, Indiana," he said, while the audience chuckled. "I was just picking a place," Bennet quipped with a smile.

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Bennet also reiterated that he regretted missing last night's debate. "Ninety-nine percent of what people care about is, 'can we beat Donald Trump?'" he said. "And that's why I regret so much that I didn't qualify for the debate stage. I got into this thing late."

To make up for lost time, Bennet said he's "just going to do town hall after town hall after town hall, answering people's questions. I don't have the money to do anything else. And I enjoy doing it." The senator added that he would quit running if he felt he had no chance at securing the nomination.

"I'm not going to stand here and say it's a 50% chance. I don't think anybody's got that big a chance," Bennet said. "I think the field is very fluid. I think the leading candidates have different weaknesses. Some of that may get revealed over time."

According to the latest CBS News survey of 16,500 registered voters, Bennet holds steady at 1%, with 4% of likely Democratic voters considering the candidate. Bennet earned 0% of support from respondents in New Hampshire. 

Bennet raised $2.1 million in the third quarter, with $1.8 million cash on hand. He contended Wednesday that he holds the fourth lowest burn rate — total money spent divided by total money raised — of any candidate.  But according to a CBS News tally, Bennet has the tenth lowest burn rate, behind candidates including Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. 

Currently, Bennet said he is "spending a bunch of money on Iowa television right now to try and drive up my numbers there." He argued his team is creating a "catcher's mitt" in New Hampshire, should he break out of Iowa on top. 

If he falls short in the "first in the nation" states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Bennet admitted that his path will become murkier. "If I don't do well in Iowa or New Hampshire," he said, "it's going to be hard for me to continue on."

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