Tension grows in political parties over candidates

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(Host) There’s growing tension between Democrats and Progressives over who will run for statewide office next year. The political maneuvering got more complicated on Tuesday with the announcement that a Progressive candidate may run for Vermont’s only U.S. House seat.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) David Zuckerman, a Progressive state representative from Burlington, is thinking seriously about a run for Congress.

The seat is now held by Independent, Bernie Sanders, who plans to run for the Senate. Zuckerman says Vermonters want a candidate with Sanders’ view on the issues.

(Zuckerman) “There’s been a progressive voice, small “p” progressive voice there for many years. And I think Vermont’s sent that there, and may want to continue sending that there. So I’m considering it.”

(Dillon) The political maneuvering for major statewide races has become more intense since Senator James Jeffords announced that he’ll retire when his term expires.

Sanders immediately said he’d run. That put pressure on Democrats. In Washington, the party has worked well with Sanders, and national party leaders said they would support Sanders in the race. At home, however, Democrats clearly wanted something in return. They’d like Sanders to work for Democratic candidates. And they want him to try to keep Progressives out of other statewide races.

Zuckerman says he respects Sanders, but wouldn’t necessarily drop out if Sanders asked.

(Zuckerman) “Well, I would certainly say to him that doesn’t it depend who the Democrat is, and what the options are for voters, and wouldn’t he want his legacy in that seat to be followed with another who’s really going to fight on wage issues and class issues and health care as he’s done.”

(Dillon) Sanders said recently that it’s too early to talk about political deals. But he said the overarching goal is get behind a candidate who can defeat the Republican majority in the House.

(Sanders) “Understand, that it’s important that we unify around our strongest candidates. Certainly I do not want to see Vermont’s next member of Congress go to Washington and vote for Tom Delay to lead the United States Congress. And I will do everything I can to prevent that”.

(Dillon) Peter Mallary, chairman of the state Democratic Party, obviously shares that goal. He points to the 2002 election of Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, and worries that a three-way race would help Republicans.

(Mallary) “I think it offers the opportunity to dilute what I believe is a majority view in the polls a year from November. And I think the results of that we have seen in the past. With all due respect to our current Lieutenant Governor, he knows, I know the only reason he is lieutenant governor is because of one of those races. Do we really want to be repeating that dynamic in other parts of the ticket?”

(Dillon) A number of candidates are thinking of entering the race on the Democratic side. Matt Dunne, a Windsor County state senator, says he’s extremely interested. Former Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin is considering the race, as is Senator Peter Welch, the current Senate President.

On the Republican side, Adjutant General Martha Rainville may run.

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

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