Primary Source: Sanders and Weld will be fun to watch in N.H.

  • John P. Gregg. Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/20/2019 8:37:13 PM
Modified: 2/21/2019 11:38:31 AM

More than a few politicians from Vermont and Massachusetts have run unsuccessfully for the White House in the last 40 years — think Ted Kennedy, Paul Tsongas, Michael Dukakis, Howard Dean, John Kerry and Mitt Romney.

But declarations in the past week from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld that they are serious about challenges as a Democrat and Republican, respectively, promise a fun show to watch, especially since Sanders most recently has again been an independent and Weld only recently switched back to the GOP after being the Libertarian vice presidential candidate in 2016.

Sanders, 77, noted that he has brought Medicare for All, a $15-an-hour minimum wage and higher taxes for the wealthy into mainstream political debate, and received strong grassroots support both in 2016 and this week.

By Wednesday morning, his campaign said it had raised $6 million from 225,000 contributors since his announcement the day before, making an average donation of $27.

And President Donald Trump noticed, calling Sanders “Crazy Bernie” in a tweet.

Sanders responded forcefully: “What’s crazy is that we have a president who is a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and a fraud. We are going to bring people together and not only defeat Trump but transform the economic and political life of this country.”

New Hampshire, of course, will be crucial to Sanders’ chances in 2020, given his border state tie and strong win here over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary. But, it’s also a critical state for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Sullivan County Democratic Chairwoman Judith Kaufman said she doesn’t think voters will hold the fact that Sanders has really been an independent who caucuses with Democrats against him, but she also noted that even some prior Sanders voters now will be looking over the entire field of Democrats, which includes several progressive candidates and five other U.S. senators.

“He certainly has strong supporters, but I think there are a whole group of voters who are just waiting to learn more about the entire field,” said Kaufman, who noted that an independent voter had called her after Sanders entered the race, seeking a “Bernie” campaign sign. (She didn’t have any to distribute).

If Sanders long has offered a strong antidote to corporate Democrats, the 73-year-old Weld, who has formed an exploratory committee to challenge Trump in the GOP primaries, would bring a voice for moderate Republicanism that may be all but dead.

He long has wanted to run for president, but his dreams were effectively dashed in 1994 with the Gingrich revolution, which made clear that Republicans nationally had moved hard to the right.

I know because I was Weld’s chief speechwriter back then, helping him craft state of the state speeches, his address at the 1992 Republican National Convention, and his second inaugural in 1995.

We haven’t been in touch for several years, but Weld as governor in the 1990s had a strong track record on cutting taxes, reforming welfare to include a work requirement, protecting river banks from development, and all the while supporting abortion rights and gay rights.

Want to hear the art of the legislative deal? Weld in 1994 unexpectedly supported a pay raise for lawmakers and was rewarded by Democratic leaders on Beacon Hill with a capital gains tax cut aimed at helping investments in the state’s high-tech industry.

With a third tunnel being built under Boston Harbor as part of the Big Dig project, Weld pre-empted any move to name it after a Democratic politician by bringing Ted Williams to the Statehouse and saying it should be named after the Red Sox great. And so it was.

Weld appointed Margaret Marshall to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court in 1996, and seven years later a ruling she authored made Massachusetts the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage.

Like all of us, Weld has his flaws, and I’ve been wrong about him before. I thought he could win when he moved back to his native New York state and ran for governor in 2006. Instead, he dropped out after failing to win the endorsement at that state’s Republican convention.

But he also served as the head of the criminal division of the Department of Justice in the late 1980s and may be looking around the corner a bit more perceptively than others on the Mueller probe.

If serious charges are leveled against Trump, in court or in a report, and Vice President Mike Pence is seen as the president’s acquiescent toady, someone will have to help rebuild the Republican Party.

In my mind, that’s more likely to be John Kasich, the former Ohio governor who is more conservative than Weld — and maybe hungrier.

But if you want to see a colorful, thoughtful, sane Republican talk about market-based approaches to governing, listening to what Weld has to say will be worth the time.

Briefly noted

Jeffrey Hart, the Dartmouth English professor who wrote speeches for Richard Nixon and later helped establish The Dartmouth Review, died over the weekend in Fairlee. He was just shy of 89, his son, Ben Hart, said on Facebook. “No need for tears. His was a life well lived. He influenced many. He was joyful till the end — no fear of death whatsoever.”

■U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is expected on Thursday to discuss the expansion of the Northern Border Regional Commission so that central and southern counties in Vermont also can qualify for federal grants through the panel. Skeptics might note that the commission was established around the time Congress was abolishing earmarks.

John P. Gregg can be reached at


U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy on Thursday discussed an expansion of the Northern Border Regional Commission to also cover central and southern counties of Vermont which was made possible by a provision in the most recent Farm Bill. An earlier version of this column was unclear on that point.

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