Transcript: Face to Face with Sen. Bennet

John Dickerson: Hello and welcome to Face to Face, I'm John Dickerson here in Denver, Colorado with Sen. Michael Bennet. Senator welcome, thanks for joining us.

Sen. Michael Bennet: Welcome yourself -

John Dickerson: I know-- we're all here for the debate. It's nice to have a debate in a swing state. Tell me about what you think we're going to learn about the president, about his challenger.

Sen. Michael Bennet: I think - what I hope we're going to see in the debate format is movement beyond talking points and actually into the substantive discussion that people want to hear. And that is what they want to hear. This state is a third Democratic, a third Republican and a third Independent. And watching it over the last three-and-a-half years in town halls here, I think what I've been struck by is how disconnected the political conversation is and the sort of established set of priorities are in Washington from what they have here - frankly whether they're Republicans, Democrats, or Independents.

John Dickerson: As they say to kids, model that behavior for me - give me a good political answer that a person out there wanting to hear a politician talk about something that affects them in their life. What does that sound like, so we can match it against tomorrow night?

Sen. Michael Bennet: I'd say most recently, I spent August traveling 2,500 miles around the state of Colorado. Mostly rural Colorado, mostly Republican Colorado. And the presidential election did not come up once in any conversation in any town hall. Think about that, compared to what happens in DC. What people wanted to talk about was why the Farm Bill couldn't get passed at a moment in their lives when people are going through the worst drought they've gone through in a generation. And that leads to a conversation about whether or not the parties in Washington and the Congress are actually working on their problems or creating problems for them.

John Dickerson: And what hope should they have that once we get through this presidential election, anything will change?

Sen. Michael Bennet: Well I mean I have to be optimistic about it because I wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning if I weren't optimistic about it. And I'm not going to try to predict what the electoral outcomes will be. But I do think that people - there was a moment a few years ago when people would come to these town halls and say, "Don't compromise, the Founding Fathers said this or that, or don't work with the other side." That's not what I hear. What I hear is "isn't principled compromise your job? Aren't you guys supposed to get something done?" And I think the reason I have some confidence that we will get something done is I'm sure that's the expectation of people across the country. They're not that different from people in Colorado. And if they don't feel like we're being responsive, they're going to throw people out.

John Dickerson: When you're in the cloak room, what does it feel like? Do you sense that the guys on the other side of the aisle want to get something done? Give us a sense of the feeling in Washington when you try - everybody's getting the kind of pressure you're talking about from their constituents.

Sen. Michael Bennet: You know I think there's a mix. People, just like anywhere, and there are people that want to get stuff done and there are people that are content to waste other people's time - including their own time. And that's been true in every workplace I've ever worked in and it's true in the United States Senate. In some ways it's been harder just in this moment of time, in a weird way, for my Republican colleagues in the Senate to think outside the box because, frankly, you've seen these primary elections continue to resolve themselves in favor of more extreme candidates rather than the mainstream candidate. And that's had an effect. But at the end of the day all of us have been sent there to do a job and I think, people feel, as a general matter, you know it is not very gratifying to go back there every week and not get stuff done and I think almost everybody looks forward to being on the other side of this election so that we can begin to roll up our sleeves and get stuff done.

John Dickerson: Tuesday night in Colorado you were having a cocktail party jointly held with your opponent -

Sen. Michael Bennet: Yeah, Ken Buck -

John Dickerson: How did that come about?

Sen. Michael Bennet: I called him up. We were trying - we thought we'd have a gathering for journalists both here and who were from out of town at the Press Club here in town and somebody suggested it ought to be bipartisan which I think is absolutely right so I called Ken and said, "Hey would you like to do this with me", and he said "Yes."  So it's great. And it's the way we do stuff out here. This isn't a blood sport in Colorado.

John Dickerson: Interestingly your race is being held up by Democrats as the model for how President Obama's going to win in Colorado. And that was a tough race.

Sen. Michael Bennet: Very

John Dickerson: Yeah -

Sen. Michael Bennet: - somebody said to me the other day, I was asking them how their polling was, it was a colleague of mine a Democrat, and she said well the last poll had us up four percent and she said you know what that's like. And I said actually no I don't know what that's like. I was never up four percent.

John Dickerson: Hard fought. Right to the wire. President Obama won by nine points here in 2008. He's not going to win by that margin. What changed?

Sen. Michael Bennet: Well I think there was so much in transition going on in the last election, I mean a feeling the last eight years had really in a lot of ways been a disaster for the country and it was clear the change - a change - had to happen. And I think that's why you saw that kind of margin. But I think the president will do very well in Colorado, I think his margin will be strong here. Partly because people understand how difficult it is to turn this all around, and I think they have a sense that he has a real appreciation for the struggles they have in their lives, and he's been consistent on that from the very beginning not only of his election but when he was running the last time.

John Dickerson: So when you did your tour of Colorado, nobody said you know 21 percent of the houses here have mortgages worth more than the house, it's underwater; unemployment is bad; and then connect that to the president? And say gosh we expected more?

Sen. Michael Bennet: Here's what - If I had to sum up the last three-and-a-half years, not just the last swing, because that really was Farm Bill focused, but the last three-and-a-half years, the most salient economic fact for the people I represent, no matter what party they're in - unimportantly what party they're in - was that we're now in the second decade of declining median family income in this country. That we have seen economic growth in this last recovery and this recovery decouple from wage growth and job growth. And that creates huge peril for people. Because they find themselves in the position, even though they've done everything they were supposed to do, of not being able to send their kid to the best state school they got into. And that's what they talk about. Then you ask the question of how do they assign blame? And I think the way they look at it is they say Washington, as a whole, seems utterly unresponsive to this set of issues that we're trying to solve and I believe people I represent still aspire to the idea that our job as a generation is to provide more opportunity to the people coming after us, not less. I think they see the president as somebody who is trying to do that. And I think for that and other reasons he's likely to do well here in November.

John Dickerson: Let me ask you one question about also sequestration. This is a big thing hanging over Colorado and the rest of the country. We can work slowly to bipartisanship to get things done - but that's got to happen fast. What's your prediction about how that gets worked out?

Sen. Michael Bennet: Well I can't, I am, I think there is a substantial chance that we could surf over this fiscal cliff at the end of this year - that we could see the Bush tax cuts expire and we could see a sequester go into place. I think we should do everything we can to avoid that and it's unnecessary. You know we created huge self-inflicted wounds for the United States during the debt ceiling discussion a year ago. This would be even worse than that if we don't get our act together here. Fortunately there are a lot of people that are working on various proposals -- some bipartisan, not bipartisan, to create alternatives to the sequester and to create alternatives to the complete expiration of the tax cuts. The one thing I would say though that's different this time than it has been - I think there is a general consensus that there's no more time when we can just kick this can down the road and expect the capital markets not to react extremely negatively, which would have a terrible effect on our economy.

John Dickerson: Last question, you've had to do debates before. What's it like as a candidate? With all the expectations, your campaign is close, all hangs in the balance - what's that like?

Sen. Michael Bennet: It's nerve-wracking. I can't imagine what these guys are going through right now given the stakes that they are fighting for. You know a Senate race is obviously a much smaller deal than a presidential race. What I think makes a very hard job considerably easier when you're going to debate is if you have reminded yourself - or somebody has reminded you during the course of your campaign - that consistency is enormously important. That people don't' want to hear you say one thing in one part of the state and another thing in another part of the state. In this day and age of digital media, as we've learned, it's not as though nobody's going to find out what you said. And my campaign really was the first cycle where there was a tracker - a political tracker, at every single event that we went to. Not from my - I mean for my opponent's campaign. that had a very disciplining effect in terms of what I said. Which meant by the time I got to the debate I was able not to make up new stuff but repeat the stuff that I'd already said. And I found that to be a relief. But they weren't the most fun things I've ever done in my life.

John Dickerson: Alright. Senator Bennet, thanks so much. Take care.

Sen. Michael Bennet: Thanks John.