Update: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet ended his 2020 presidential campaign on Tuesday night, as results of the New Hampshire primary were coming in.
This story was originally published on February 10, 2020.
You might wonder why a 20-year-old college sophomore from Colorado, attending school in Connecticut, would have spent all but one weekend of the last few months driving 250 miles from New Haven, CT, to New Hampshire and back again to campaign for her presidential candidate.
I make the trips because I’m wholeheartedly committed to a candidate who may not have the highest poll numbers, but who has the most ambitious vision for our country — Michael Bennet. I guess I should mention, the candidate I’m working for competing in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday is also my dad.
Despite serving as a U.S. senator, a job that often took him away from home, my father was always very present as I grew up. We spent our family time each weekend traversing the Rocky Mountains, meeting with constituents. My mom, two younger sisters, and I viewed Coloradans as my dad’s bosses, and it was our job to serve them.
As I got older, our family dinner conversations were a combination of what we learned in school and what was going on in the world. Dad taught me how to read and write, how to listen to others and use my voice. Our family was his life. The idea that he’d ever do something like run for higher office — let alone the presidency — never occurred to me.
The 2016 election changed that.
To make sense of the norms and institutions that seemed to be crumbling around him, Dad embarked on writing a book about our democracy and what it meant to him. That fall, I worked on my college applications while he wrote. We traded manuscripts, and as a young woman newly interested in politics, the meticulous way he had diagnosed flaws in our government — and the optimism that he still had for democracy — sent a powerful message of hope in what might otherwise have felt like very dark times.
Then came a moment I didn’t expect: My father sat us all down and asked what we thought of the possibility of him running for president. My sisters and I were on board. And although my mom worried about the scrutiny families often endure in a national campaign, she ultimately told us, “This feels like something good that we can do for you all and for your generation.”
If there was ever an election that was a risky bet, it was this one. More than 20 candidates had already jumped in the race, and my dad was not a typical politician. Despite winning two tough races in the swing state of Colorado, he was never comfortable talking about himself. What my dad loved was meeting Americans where they lived, in their homes and businesses, and listening to what they had to say.
To qualify for the debates and launch a nationwide campaign, a candidate had to raise tens of millions of dollars. Getting a late start in this race didn’t make that easy to do. Instead, my dad made the unconventional choice to focus solely on the primary in New Hampshire, a state with a history of changing the course of elections on the basis of old-fashioned honesty and town hall politics.
New Hampshire is a lot like Colorado. They are both mountainous (although I’ll admit I would take my Rockies over the White Mountains any day), and Granite Staters and Coloradans spend their lives outdoors, skiing, hiking, and hunting. They understand that climate change is real and are desperate to address the crisis urgently. The states are also similar politically, split evenly among Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. Traveling around, we often feel at home.
In our fifth town hall on a Saturday in January, the snow piling quietly outside, Dad and I spoke at a mosque in a strip mall. A man who had immigrated from Sudan decades ago told my father, “No presidential candidate has ever come to meet us before.” Just down the block, 1,000 people gathered to hear from one of the frontrunners. But in that strip mall, asking questions about their schools and healthcare, the audience had my dad’s undivided attention.
You could call my dad’s candidacy the ultimate long-shot — although it’s worth noting that James Carville, the man credited with bringing about Bill Clinton’s game-changing win in New Hampshire in 1992, has endorsed my father. After a dozen winter weekends in the Granite State, here’s what I’ve learned: New Hampshire has a chance to change this election. The state may be small, and its mountains may not be as tall as the Rockies, but on Tuesday, the voices of its people will be heard across the nation.
It wasn’t easy leaving my college campus every weekend to campaign up north for my father. One week, I spent the ride home reading a 500-page biography of Lyndon B. Johnson for class; another night, after a full day of events, I stayed up finishing a biology assignment. My dad felt guilty about the time I spent away from school. But I loved meeting people who took their role in this democracy as seriously as our family did.
That’s a stark difference from my college campus, where a cynicism that verges on apathy clutches student activists. Only 46% of eligible Yale University students voted in the last election. When I told my dad that students did not believe in democracy anymore, he answered, “Why should they? Young people your age have never known a democracy that has worked.” This is exactly why he is running for president.
Sleet was coming down hard in Nashua, NH, last weekend. It was a Saturday, and folks seemed reluctant to open their doors for a shivering college student with a clipboard. Finally, one woman peeked outside. As I began to tell her why she should vote for Michael Bennet, my phone rang. It was my father, so I put him on speaker phone.
“Dad,” I said, “I’m here with an undecided New Hampshire voter. Can you tell her why she should vote for you?”
“Ma’am,” he said, “You should vote for me because of how well my wife and I raised our daughter.”
I am as proud to be his daughter as he is to be my father. I will always remember the lessons of this hard, rewarding New England winter. No matter the results, as long as we are doing what is right and true, we can never lose.
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