Primary Source: Does Levi Sanders Have What It Takes in New Hampshire?

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

In 1962, as a 30-year-old Edward Moore Kennedy was running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, his Democratic primary opponent delivered a withering line for the ages.

“ ... If his name was Edward Moore — with his qualifications, with your qualifications, Teddy — if it was Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke,” Edward J. McCormack, the Massachusetts attorney general at the time, said during a South Boston debate.

As it happens, Ted Kennedy went on to easily win the primary — this was the Camelot era, after all — and in later years became one of the Senate’s most effective lawmakers.

But the McCormack line comes to mind here in the Twin States as two of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanderschildren have stepped into the political ring.

Things didn’t work out too well on Tuesday night for his stepdaughter, Carina Driscoll, who lost a challenge to Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger in a three-way race.

But at least the 43-year-old Driscoll had serious political experience. A former city councilor, school board member and state representative, she ran as an independent and said Weinberger was too close to developers, noting on her website, “It’s time to elect a leader who understands that Burlington is NOT for sale.”

Weinberger, a Hartland native and former affordable-housing developer, won rather easily, with 48.4 percent of the vote to 35 percent for Driscoll.

Now, Sanders enthusiasts may focus their attention on Claremont’s own Levi Sanders, who turns 49 in a few weeks and last month said he will run for Congress in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District, where he does not live.

“For 15 years, New Hampshire has been my family’s home. For over 17 years, I have represented the working class who have been beaten up by the system. It is time to demand that we have a system which represents the 99 percent and not the 1 percent who have never had it so good,” he said in the statement announcing his candidacy in a crowded Democratic primary for an open seat.

Levi (pronounced LEH-vee) Sanders has worked part time as a senior paralegal for a legal services program in the Boston area, commuting for his job. His wife, Raine Riggs, is a neuropsychologist, and they have three children, who were paraded around Lebanon with their grandfather during Halloween 2015 as Bernie Sanders campaigned for New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary.

It worked out well for Sen. Sanders, of course — he crushed Hillary Clinton in the Granite State presidential primary.

While Levi Sanders has little governing experience, he too has long campaigned with his father, often accompanying him during campaign stops as a boy. And, like his father, who ran and lost statewide four times in Vermont before narrowly being elected mayor of Burlington, Levi Sanders’ start in politics has been unsuccessful.

In 2004, Levi Sanders ran against the incumbent Sullivan County register of probate and won just 39 percent of the vote. In 2008, he ran for register of deeds in Sullivan County and lost.

And in 2009, Levi Sanders was one of nine candidates seeking four City Council seats in Claremont. He described himself at the time as “progressive in nature,” but also allied himself with anti-tax candidates who were supporting a proposed tax cap in the city.

He finished seventh in a field of nine. Now he finds himself in a primary against several talented Democrats, including Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, of Manchester. And the Republicans also will field a strong candidate in the bid to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H.

One of them, Lebanon native Andy Sanborn, a conservative state senator from Bedford, N.H., greeted news of Levi Sanders’ candidacy with a fundraising email calling him an “out of district socialist.”

Levi Sanders clearly is hoping that the thousands of grassroots donors who backed his father’s campaign also will help him win a seat in Congress.

But it’s worth remembering what he said in 2009, when he downplayed his politically prominent father during his City Council race.

“His attitude is you have to do things on your own,” Levi Sanders said at the time. “Bernie Sanders is different from Levi Sanders. ... New Hampshire is a far more conservative place than Vermont is.”

Another Challenger to Welch

A former Liberty Union candidate for statewide office in Vermont has entered the Democratic primary for the U.S. House, challenging U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.

Ben Mitchell announced his candidacy at Westminster’s floor portion of Town Meeting on Saturday morning at Bellows Falls Union High School. Mitchell said fighting the opioid epidemic is a top priority, along with combating the influence of money in politics.

“Generally, corporate democracy is the enemy of my campaign,” said Mitchell, the son of the late state Rep. Mark Mitchell, D-Barnard. Brownsville resident Dan Freilich, a physician, also has announced his candidacy against Welch.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.