Michael Bennet on cancer diagnosis: 'I don’t see this stopping me' from 2020 run

EXETER, N.H. – Sen. Michael Bennet says he’s optimistic he’ll soon be running for president.

The two-term Colorado Democrat – who announced last week that he recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer – told Fox News, “I feel really lucky. It was caught early and this is a really treatable form of cancer and we have insurance. I think I’m going to be fine. I hope I will because I really want to have the opportunity to run in 2020.”

Bennet was interviewed Sunday as he campaigned in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House.

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Pointing to then-Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts – the 2004 Democratic nominee who had successful cancer surgery at the onset of his presidential campaign – Bennet, 54, said, “John was 59 when he had the same operation. He had it and two weeks later he was in California, doing what he needed to do out there to campaign. So I take this seriously, but if all goes well I don’t see this stopping me.”

Bennet didn’t bring up his diagnosis during a question-and-answer session with the Rockingham County Democrats that lasted over an hour, but members of the crowd wished him well.

“I don’t feel the need to bring it up myself. I’m glad to talk about it if people want to raise it,” he told Fox News.

The diagnosis apparently hasn’t slowed Bennet down on the campaign trail. The Exeter event was the second to last in a jam-packed two-day swing through New Hampshire. On Monday he’s headed to Iowa, which votes first in the presidential caucus and primary calendar.

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Bennet, who said he had planned to declare his candidacy for president this month, explained that he hoped to jump into the White House race a few weeks after next week’s surgery, if he gets a clean bill of health.

Michael Bennet in Exeter, N.H., talking to Rockingham County Democrats.

Michael Bennet in Exeter, N.H., talking to Rockingham County Democrats. (Fox News)

That wouldn’t leave a lot of time for Bennet to make the stage at the first round of Democratic presidential primary debates, set for late June.

“We’ve made it a little bit harder on myself although I wouldn’t have asked for this issue,” he explained. “I think it’s important to be on the debate stage, whether it’s the first debate or the second debate, however you’re able to do it, and we will work to get on there. I don’t want to make excuses for it, but we slowed down a little bit.”

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When Bennet likely jumps into the race, he’ll be facing off against a large field of Democratic contenders (it currently stands at 17), many with bigger name ID and bigger campaign war chests. And there’s already a candidate from Colorado in the race. The state’s former two-term governor – John Hickenlooper – launched his campaign last month.

Many of the leading contenders are supporters of the single-payer “Medicare for All” health care proposal, a top wish-list item for the progressive base of the Democratic Party.

However, Bennet isn’t endorsing “Medicare for All.” Instead, he teamed up with Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia to come up with a plan called “Medicare-X” which would establish a public option for people maintaining their private insurance.

“I wouldn’t even call it extreme or left wing or too progressive or any of that stuff,” Bennet said when asked about “Medicare for All.” “I know people out there want to have a public option to compete with private insurance. I know they want to have a choice and I know they don’t want to be dictated by the federal government what that choice has to be. That’s how I developed the idea for 'Medicare X.'”

He touted that his plan is “more achievable.”

And, pointing to President Trump’s efforts to scrap ObamaCare, Bennet argued that “we have a president who has spent his administration trying to take health care away from millions of Americans.”

Bennet, who served as superintendent of the Denver public school system before first winning election to the U.S. Senate in 2010, highlighted his push to reform education.

“This will make me unelectable but I’ll say it on the first day – I think kids should go to school six days a week. And, I don’t think they should go to school nine months a year. I think they should go to school off and on year-round,” Bennet told the crowd.

He highlighted that year-round school would narrow the achievement gap, saying that “in the summertime the more affluent kids gain proficiency, the less affluent kids lose proficiency.”

He also stressed that “this is a place with a lot of low hanging fruit where we can make an enormous difference... with some very smart strategic (federal) funding, we can revolutionize community colleges in this country and we could change dramatically what we’re doing in K-12.”

Bennet also urged that Democrats “need a president and leadership in Washington that’s as strategic as” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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“It’s not about nice. That guy is not nice. But it’s about following through on what he’s trying to do,” he said of the longtime Republican senator from Kentucky. “We need to be as strategic as McConnell.”

But he added, “I do not believe that we need to be as ruthless as McConnell.”