Bennet doesn’t bash the Tea Party in debate

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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NBC’s David Gregory gave appointed Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet the chance to bash the Tea Party movement during Sunday’s Meet the Press debate with his Tea Party-backed Republican opponent, but he didn’t take the bait.

“I haven’t seen a lot of that either,” Bennet said during a discussion about whether there are racist or extreme elements within the Tea Party movement.

Bennet appeared to agree on that issue with Ken Buck, the Republican nominee and Weld County district attorney who won his primary with the aid of Tea Party groups. “I find it offensive that people would try to label the Tea Party that way,” Buck said.

Not knocking the conservative electorate is an interesting strategy for Bennet as he fights Buck’s contention that he’s not the independent voice in Washington that he portrays himself as on the campaign trail. Gregory pointed to a study that said Bennet has voted with Obama 97 percent of the time.

“I think every voter is up for grabs in Colorado,” Bennet, the former head of the Denver school system, said later while speaking with reporters.

During the debate here at NBC’s Washington Bureau, Bennet said his “favorite room,” when it comes to legislating, includes Democrats, Republicans and Tea Partiers. He also praised Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham and bragged of working with southern Republican senators like Georgia’s Johnny Isakson and Tennessee’s Bob Corker.

Perhaps in a pitch to Tea Party voters — who often point to career politicians as the problem — Bennet said during the debate, and again during an interview afterwards, that this is his first year to appear on a ballot for office.

Most polls show Buck leading by several points, though a Rasmussen poll released Saturday shows a virtually tied race, with Buck leading 47 percent to Bennet’s 45 percent.

During a lightning round session, Buck may have given Bennet’s ad makers fodder for a new campaign ad by saying being gay is a choice. He explained that people choose their own partner.

Bennet replied by saying that Buck’s answer was out of the “mainstream.”

Speaking with reporters afterward, Buck questioned the relevance of the topic: “What gay issues are in front of the United States Senate?”

He went on to say he’s not a biologist and hasn’t studied the issue, but said a number of things impact sexuality, including genetic factors. Buck said he hopes his opponents will not be “insensitive” enough to suggest he was saying being gay “is a disease.”

Yet he understands the answer might be used against him.  “There’s no doubt there will probably be a commercial on something like that,” he said.