Dean campaigns for Rutland Democrats

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(Host) Rutland County hasn’t had a Democratic senator since 1992. In his first official Vermont campaign appearance of the election season, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean stopped in Rutland on Tuesday to endorse the three Democrats running for state Senate.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Dean) “How are you?”
(Woman) “Thank you so much for coming down today.”
(Dean) “I’m delighted to be here, this is great.”

(Zind) For the past two years Howard Dean has focused on national politics – first as a presidential candidate, then on behalf of Democratic nominee John Kerry and a number of congressional candidates. Tuesday he briefly stepped back onto the familiar terrain of Vermont politics.

(Dean) “This is the strongest slate of candidates running for the Senate on the Democratic side that I have ever seen in my lifetime of politics in Vermont.”

(Zind) Standing before a small group of supporters, Dean endorsed the three Democratic candidates for state Senate from Rutland County. Some familiar Democratic names have served the county in the in the Senate: Gilbert Godnick, Flossie Robillard, Rita McCaffrey and David Wolk among them. But for the past 14 years Republicans have had a lock on the county’s three Senate seats.

A vacancy this year – created by the retirement of Senator John Bloomer – has raised Democratic hopes. Candidates Mark Skakel, Al Wilkenson and Vicky Young say they’re running as a team, and all appeared at Dean’s side Tuesday. Skakel says Dean’s support is a boost to their campaign.

(Skakel) “I think in some ways it legitimizes our campaign. It’s good to have the support of statewide people.”

(Zind) Dean says it doesn’t serve Rutland County well for all three of its senators to come from the minority party in the Senate.

(Dean) “I think it’s time we did have some Democratic representation in the Senate in Rutland. They are the majority party and if Rutland is going to get its fair share we need to have some Democrats in the Senate representing them.”

(Wendy Wilton) “I think people are very happy with the two incumbents. They’re probably actually looking to make sure that team remains intact.”

(Zind) Wendy Wilton is a Republican running for the open Senate seat. Wilton says Dean’s endorsement may galvanize some Democratic voters, but it probably won’t affect the outcome of the election.

(Wilton) “I think the folks in the middle are really going to look at us candidates individually and they’re going to figure out who they feel best represents their interests. I don’t think the endorsement of somebody higher up is going to make a difference.”

(Zind) Dean says his schedule won’t allow him to spend much time campaigning for Vermont candidates. He says national obligations will keep him on the road six days a week until Election Day. After appearing in Rutland, Dean headed off to speak to students at Castleton State College. He would be in Oregon by day’s end.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Rutland.

Young is a member of the VPR Board of Directors.

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