Leahy takes active role supporting Welch

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy is taking a very active role supporting Democratic U.S. House candidate Peter Welch this year.

Leahy is making numerous campaign appearances with Welch, he’s appearing in TV spots and he’s helping him raise money.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha came to Vermont earlier this week to campaign for fellow Democrat Peter Welch, senator Patrick Leaky was right by Welch’s side.

Murtha quickly acknowledged Leahy’s presence at the Burlington event.

(Murtha) “Thank you very much I’m just delighted to be here with Senator Leahy who’s such a charismatic leader in the Senate. He’s so powerful. Even in the minority he’s powerful. If we have a Democratic majority, he’ll be in a better position to change things. He was way ahead of me in the war.”

(Kinzel) That appearance was one of three that Leahy will make for Welch in a period of just 4 days. Over the course of the campaign, Leahy will make more public appearances for Welch than he has for any other candidate during his 32 years in the U.S. Senate.

Leahy says there’s a simple reason why:

(Leahy) “I think it’s an extremely important race. I think it could affect the control of the House. Is it going to be a rubber stamp House of Representatives, to question everything from Iraq to funding for police officers? Or is it going to be one that isn’t a rubber stamp? And Peter can make that difference. And I believe when you’re campaigning for something to campaign and really campaign!”

(Kinzel) Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says Leahy’s strong involvement with the Welch campaign brings some tangible benefits for Welch.

(Davis) “The senator can help Welch raise money in Washington by hosting fund raisers. Down there in D.C. Senator Leahy can put in a good word for Welch with people at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who make decisions about which races to allocate funds to.”

(Kinzel) Davis says Leahy’s strong endorsement also helps Welch in other ways.

(Davis) “Leahy is seen as a respected and credible figure. And if he’s doing these events with Welch on different sorts of issues, whether it’s the Iraq War or issues related to agriculture or issues relating to veterans or education or law enforcement, Leahy has strong ties with many constituencies in Vermont. And his appearing at these events along with Welch helps him with those constituencies.”

(Kinzel) Davis says there are still a number of undecided voters in the Congressional race. He believes the outcome of the contest will be determined by one over-arching factor.

Will these undecided voters be influenced by Welch’s call for a change in leadership in Washington and view the race as a referendum on President Bush?

Or will they support Martha Rainville’s message that the contest should be decided by a host of local issues and by her belief that she’s the best candidate to serve the interests of Vermont in Congress.

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

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