Jeffords’ Announcment Changes Landscape

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(Host) Senator Jeffords’ announcement that he won’t seek re-election was an earthquake that rumbled across Vermont’s political landscape because it has the potential of affecting the line up for many of the statewide races in 2006.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders has indicated previously that he would almost certainly run for the Senate seat if Jeffords dropped out of the race.

Late Wednesday afternoon Sanders said it’s not the right time to discuss his political future but he says he does stand by his previous statements

(Sanders) “I have been very clear about my intentions which have not changed. But today is not the time to talk about politics or elections. Today I think we should keep the focus on Jim Jeffords. And I want to join with Vermonters from all over the state in saying ‘thanks, Jim, for all that you’ve done for Vermont.'”

(Kinzel) Another key player could be Republican governor, Jim Douglas. Middlebury College political science professor, Eric Davis:

(Davis) “I think the governor will come under a lot of pressure from national Republicans to enter the race. President Bush would be likely to call him and urge him to become a candidate. The national Republican senatorial committee will tell him they can raise as much money as he needs fort the race. So there’s going to be a lot of pressure from national Republicans sources for Governor, Douglas to get into the race, because he’s probably the only Republican who could win the seat.”

(Kinzel) Davis says the Democrats face a dilemma if Sanders decides to run. Should they support Sanders as they have in many of his House races? Or should they run their own candidate – a move that might insure the election of a Republican?

(Davis) “I wouldn’t be surprised if some senior Democrats make the argument that especially if the governorship is open. That’s the office that the democrats should really concentrate on winning. Let the senate race be a head-to-head fight between Bernie Sanders and Jim Douglas. And then there’d be the open House seat also.”

(Kinzel) Vermont Republican party chairman, Jim Barnett, says Jeffords’ decision will certainly make it easier to recruit strong candidates to this race – a race Barnett thinks can be won by the GOP.

(Barnet) “I think it’s been a winnable seat. But it’s certainly very winnable under these circumstances. We’re excited about the prospect. But there’s plenty of time to decide who’s going to be involved in that race.”

(Kinzel) Barnett says the Vermont race could have national significance because the Republicans are hoping to increase their majority in the U.S. Senate in next year’s election.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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