April 21, 2005


Jeffords Won't Run Next Year (John P. Gregg, 4/21/05, Valley News)

Jeffords' announcement, wistful as it was, also served as the starting gun for what could be the most frenzied election cycle Vermont has seen in decades.

“I think it unleashes a lot of pent-up political ambition in Vermont. And it's going to be fascinating to watch this unfold,” said Bob Rogan, a longtime aide to former Gov. Howard Dean and now a Verizon consultant. “It's the great domino effect that everyone has been predicting for years, and I think everyone now who has an interest in moving up is taking stock, and in the next two or three days we'll see if things take shape.”

Dean, recently elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, intends to honor his commitment to lead the party and does not plan to run for Jeffords' seat, an aide told The Associated Press.

But U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, acknowledged that his previous plans to run for the Senate if a seat opened still hold true.

“I have been clear about my intentions, which have not changed, but today is not the time to talk about politics or elections,” said Sanders, who praised Jeffords for his “basic decency” and “down-to-earthness.”

Sanders said he would not run as a Democrat. “I am an independent, but I work very closely with Democrats in the House,” he said.

Steve Terry, a former aide to Aiken and a senior vice president at Green Mountain Power, said Douglas could come under pressure from national Republicans to run for the seat, though Terry predicted Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, also a Republican, might run for the Senate instead.

“Obviously, Governor Douglas is very popular in our state, and has a long record of winning, and so that tends to have the effect of getting people's attention,” said Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett.

For Democrats, who have been stymied by other recent three-way statewide elections in Vermont, Sanders' likely candidacy raises the question of whether they would want to run their own candidate or simply back Sanders, a former Burlington mayor and one of the more liberal members of Congress.

“It's unclear what the landscape is going to be,” said Peter Mallary, a Fairlee resident and chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party. “Obviously, three-way races are problematic. … If Jim Douglas is the Republican candidate and Congressman Sanders is a candidate, that's a pretty titanic conversation for starters.”

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said the second-term governor is focused on his current job and has been raising money for re-election.

“There's plenty of time for people to think about exactly what they want to do in 2006,” Gibbs said. “Right now, the governor is focused on being governor.”

Barnett said along with Dubie and Douglas, another possible Republican candidate would be Richard Tarrant, the founder of IDX Systems Corp. in Burlington, who has previously considered running for the Senate.

If either Sanders or Douglas gave up their current seats, it would create heated races lower down the political ladder.

Welch, the Hartland Democrat who previously has run both for the U.S. House and for governor, acknowledged yesterday that he is giving serious thought to running for higher office.

“Jeffords' decision to retire is relevant to my plans for the future, but I am not going to give it much thought until after the (legislative) session is over, for obvious reasons,” said Welch. “We have to land the plane on health care and the budget.”

Hard to believe the Democrats can just walk away from the race. Imagine their best case scenario in '06, picking up enough seats to tie the Senate again, but to have 51 they need Bernie. He'd be able to dictate his choice of committee chairmanships and be a de facto face of the party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 21, 2005 12:18 PM
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