House race could help determine Congress party control

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(Host) The race for Vermont’s sole seat in the U.S. House is taking place on a national stage. The Vermont contest is one of three-dozen races that could determine which party controls Congress.

The two main candidates have tried to deal with this issue in very different ways.

Republican Martha Rainville is emphasizing an independent image, while Democrat Peter Welch says the election is a referendum on Republican leadership in Washington.

VPR’s John Dillon has this report:

(Dillon) For Republican Rainville, the challenge has always been to cast the House race in Vermont terms, not as part of a national contest.

The former adjutant general of the National Guard was wooed by both parties before deciding to run as a Republican. But she emphasizes over and over again in debates and in TV commercials that she is not beholden to the party.

Here she is last month during VPR’s Switchboard debate:

(Rainville) “We are in the position of trying to make sure in my case that Vermonters understand who I am and what I will bring to Congress on their behalf. I’m Martha Rainville. I’m not George Bush. I’m not Dennis Hastert. I’m not anyone other than myself. Vermonters know me. They respect me and they know I have an independent voice. I speak up for what I believe. I don’t toe the party line. I won’t toe any party line.”

(Dillon) But Rainville never really broke with the party until late in the race when she backed legislation to fight global warming and questioned the post-invasion strategy in Iraq.

Rainville also received fundraising help from top Republicans, including first ladies Laura and Barbara Bush. National Republicans have also spent more than $700,000 for TV ads on her behalf.

Welch has framed the election as a chance for voters to force a change in Washington.

(Welch) “The whole point of the constitutional system of checks and balances, in a two year term for members of the House of Representatives is to allow people of this great democracy to say they’ve had enough. And this election is going to be the opportunity for the people of this state, the people of this country, to say clearly, convincingly, emphatically, we want a change in direction. We want to restore checks and balances.”

(Dillon) Eric Davis is a professor of political science at Middlebury College. He says Welch’s strategy of making the race a national referendum will appeal to more Vermont voters.

(Davis) “So I believe that the Welch argument for a new direction may very well prove to be more powerful on Election Day than the Rainville claim – that it comes down to which individual Vermonters want to have representing us in Congress.”

(Dillon) The campaign has also been marked by an absence of nastiness and negative advertising.

Early in the race, Rainville pledged to run a clean campaign. And the debates between the two have been civil and have focused on the issues.

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

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