Douglas steers away from heavy campaign debate schedule

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he will debate his Democratic challenger, but probably not as many times as in the last campaign. The Republican governor also said at his weekly news conference that he’s hopeful Vermonters will support him for re-election, even if voters oppose the Iraq war and other policies of the Bush administration.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) With the Legislature out of session, the campaign season is around the corner. Peter Clavelle, the Burlington mayor and Democratic candidate for governor, has challenged Douglas to 40 debates or forums, including one on Friday.

Douglas turned down that invitation. The governor said at his weekly news conference he will debate Clavelle, but won’t participate in as many debates as he did two years ago. He says it’s too early to start the round of debates.

(Douglas) “The point is that I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m not going to put the state of Vermont on auto pilot and go around and engage in a political campaign when I have official responsibilities to perform.”

(Dillon) The governor’s schedule takes him frequently out of his Montpelier office. This week, for example, he’s appearing at the re-opening of a landmark restaurant in Burlington. And on Friday, he plans to attend the grand opening of a gas station in Barre.

He’ll also attend the second funeral in a week for a Vermont soldier killed in Iraq. The governor supports the war and heads President Bush’s campaign committee in Vermont.

The war has harmed the president’s popularity. And Clavelle has tried to link Douglas with Bush’s policies, including the Iraq war. Middlebury College Political Science Professor Eric Davis says that Douglas’s ties to Bush could hurt the governor in November.

(Davis) “Generally, Governor Douglas’s close association with President Bush may turn out to be a liability this fall. In the 2000 presidential election, George Bush got just under 41 percent of the vote in Vermont and in 2002 Jim Douglas got about 45 percent of the vote. But that was in a three-way race and with no independent candidates appearing in this fall’s gubernatorial race, Jim Douglas is going to have to get 50 percent to get re-elected, which means he’ll have to do 10 percent better than George Bush did four years ago.”

(Dillon) But Douglas says Vermont voters have a long history of supporting candidates from different parties. He also pointed out that he doesn’t agree with the president on every issue.

(Douglas) “It’s been clear I’m free to disagree with the president where appropriate. I’m involved in a couple of lawsuits against him right now with respect to proposed emission standards from Midwestern power plants, and have some disagreements with him from time to time on other matters.”

(Dillon) Douglas describes himself as a moderate Republican in the tradition of former Governors Richard Snelling and Deane Davis, and former U.S. Senator Robert Stafford.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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