Primary Source:  Looking at the Sanders Juggernaut

  • 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.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders was in typical form on Wednesday, speaking at a Capitol Hill rally in favor of a $15 minimum wage and later tweeting out his opposition to President Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts.

“Trump’s plan to eliminate the estate tax and provide a $4 billion tax break to the Trump family is especially outrageous,” Sanders said.

Sanders will be 77 by the time Election Day 2018 rolls around, but Democrats are counting on him to seek a third term in the Senate, especially given that only eight of the 33 seats up for re-election are Republican.

At this juncture, Sanders, again an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has to be considered a shoo-in for re-election. He sits on a roughly $4 million Senate campaign war chest and is wildly popular with many Vermonters who supported his presidential run — Sanders even got 18,218 write-in votes for president in November in Vermont, or 5.8 percent of votes cast, outpacing Gary Johnson and Jill Stein combined.

He also has a grass-roots mailing list of millions of supporters across the country from whom he can raise even more money, if needed.

Jeff Bartley, the executive director of the Vermont Republican Party, said no one has approached the party about running against Sanders to date. “It’s about six months removed from the 2016 election, and he hasn’t necessarily stated he is running for re-election for now,” Bartley noted.

Bartley also said GOP priorities would include focusing on Gov. Phil Scott’s re-election bid; challenging Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat whom Republicans regard as “extremely vulnerable;” and boosting their numbers in the Legislature.

And yet, strange things can happen in politics (see November 2016), and two Windsor County Republicans say they are at least considering a run against Sanders.

One would be Windsor Republican John MacGovern, a former state representative in Massachusetts who lost to Sanders in 2012, getting 24.5 percent of the vote.

MacGovern, a Ted Cruz supporter last year who regards Trump as “willfully ignorant” and didn’t vote for him, has also just obtained his Realtor’s license, and said having the time to develop that career was a consideration.

“I’ve not ruled it out entirely,” MacGovern said of a challenge against Sanders, whom he enjoyed debating in 2012. “It was wonderful, because he’s a man of certain principles ... They are from the left, and mine are on the right, but he’s a socialist and I’m free markets, and to me that’s a great, worthwhile debate.”

Also looking at the race — saying a challenge is “possible” — is Pomfret Republican Scott Milne, who almost unseated Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2014 but then garnered just 33 percent of the vote in a challenge against U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last year.

“I have a lot of respect for Sanders. I agree with him on a lot of what he says ails us. I just disagree with the math in a lot of his solutions,” Milne, a travel executive, said via email. “I hope he has a strong opponent, from the Dems or Repubs. It will be healthy for everyone.”

Where’s Gov. Sununu?

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu last week said he has met with 127 out-of-state businesses in his first 100 days in office in a bid to help lure them to New Hampshire. But after almost four months in office, he’s paid little, if any, attention to the Upper Valley.

At a statewide chamber event earlier this month, Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rob Taylor applauded Sununu’s focus on employers but also told him, “I’d like to personally invite you to come to Lebanon and be your tour guide and talk to you about how to help businesses here.”

Sununu told him that with the Legislature in session, he has been focusing on matters around Concord and the Manchester area, but that he was planning on a Lebanon-area visit in “Q3,” business speak for the third quarter of the year.

Asked for a breakdown on Wednesday of how many times — if any — Sununu has visted Claremont, Lebanon or Hanover since taking office, Sununu’s camp replied, “Governor Sununu looks forward to visiting the region soon.”

Briefly Noted

Two Upper Valley Democrats voted against legalizing and taxing marijuana last week in the 21-9 pro-pot vote. That would be state Sens. Alice Nitka, D-Ludlow, and Jane Kitchel, D-Danville. State Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, voted for the measure, but with one qualification: “Marijuana is not entirely benign,” McCormack said during floor debate, according to Seven Days. “It does make friends of mine who are otherwise interesting, annoying. It’s a vice.”

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos and Attorney General TJ Donovan are holding public meetings of a Joint Committee on Campaign Finance Education, Compliance and Reform to take testimony about possible changes to campaign finance law. The committee comes to the Valley at 6 p.m. on May 9 at Hartford Town Hall.

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