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U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet speaks to voters at jajaBelles bakery in Nashua, New Hampshire, on April 6, 2019. Bennet is exploring a 2020 presidential bid despite a recent prostate cancer diagnosis. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

Nashua, N.H. — Colorado’s Michael Bennet outlined why he thinks Congress is “completely immobilized” and offered his plan to fix the nation’s health care system during a presidential campaign visit Saturday to New Hampshire.

When he finished the hour-plus talk, the two dozen voters who filled a small bakery on Main Street began to disperse. But a few people lingered with one more question — about Bennet’s health.

The Democrat’s visit to Nashua marked his first campaign event since he disclosed he has prostate cancer. The topic didn’t arise in the wide-ranging discussion, but Bennet fielded inquiries afterward from voters and reporters about how the diagnosis would affect his anticipated bid for the White House.

“I would have been happy to talk about it, but nobody else raised it,” he told reporters. “Afterwards a few people said, ‘I hope you’re going to be OK.’ So I didn’t know whether to say anything or not.”

Bennet, Colorado’s senior U.S. senator, still plans to make a run for the Democratic nomination, if he gets a clean bill of health, but he acknowledged his diagnosis “has slowed us down a little bit” and may affect whether he makes the debate stage in June.

“I’m not really thinking about it,” he said of his diagnosis, adding that “if it turns out to be worse than I think, I’ll deal with it then. But I feel good.”

The 54-year-old Denver lawmaker is scheduled for surgery to remove his prostate soon after the congressional recess begins April 11, and he plans to take about two weeks to recuperate.

But the health issue, he said, won’t slow the preparations for his campaign and he hopes to hire more staff soon. “I didn’t pick this particular set of circumstances,” he said with a laugh. “This is not how I would have rolled it out.”

MORE: Michael Bennet says he will 100% run for president if he is cancer-free after treatment

Bennet remains committed to joining the increasingly crowded field of Democratic contenders.

“I’d like to try. I’d like to contribute to this debate,” he said. “And it only underscores how infuriating it is that we’ve got a guy in the White House who’s made a mockery of dealing with the problems in our health care system.”

Bennet said his cancer diagnosis makes the health care debate all the more serious. He is proposing what he calls Medicare X, which would allow anyone to buy into the health care coverage that currently serves people over age 65 and to operate within the current health care system.

“It’s not about finishing Obamacare versus ‘Medicare for All,’” he said. “It’s about a set of principles that have to do with universal coverage in this country and reducing the incredible cost of health care.”

Bennet said he welcomes the debate in the primary, but he said the party must be “very clear that if a Democrat is elected president this is going to be very high on the list of priorities.”

His trip to New Hampshire came on a busy weekend as a handful of other candidates — including U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana — flooded the early-voting state.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, another Democratic candidate, spent Saturday campaigning in South Carolina, another state early on the presidential primary calendar, and met with a survivor of the Charleston church shooting and victims’ family members.

Bennet plans to hold three more events on Sunday across New Hampshire before he flies to Iowa for a campaign event Monday in Des Moines.

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.