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    Democrats Waiting On Vermont and Delaware

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, Aug. 20, 1999

    Question: How come people aren't talking up Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as a strong choice to take the Senate seat away from Republican Jim Jeffords? If the Democrats succeed in getting both Dean in Vermont and Gov. Tom Carper in Delaware to run [against GOP Sen. Bill Roth], doesn't that improve the chances of the Democrats taking back the Senate? – Jim Davis, San Francisco, Calif.

    Vermont Gov. Dean has said no to White House and Senate bids for 2000. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Dean announced last spring that he wouldn't run against Jeffords, whom he called a "very good friend." Dean certainly would have been the Democrats' strongest candidate; he's won four consecutive gubernatorial elections – a feat matched by no other Democrat in state history. But with his decision came extra pressure on Rep. Bernie Sanders, the nation's only independent House member, to run. Sanders has yet to announce whether he will run for the Senate, and a lot of Democrats are waiting to see what he does. State Sen. Jan Backus, who held Jeffords to a 50-41 percent victory in 1994, and State Auditor Ed Flanagan would jump into the Senate contest if Sanders decides to stay in the House. If Sanders goes for the Senate, Flanagan and Backus would likely opt for Sanders' House seat.

    National Democratic leaders, led by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, are trying to entice Sanders into running, but the five-term congressman has not tipped his hand. Sanders may not have a "D" next to his name, but many Dems think he is the only person who could oust Jeffords. What's so interesting about this Sanders watch is that for a long time, he was viewed as little more than a noisy fringe candidate. As nominee of the left-wing Liberty Union Party, he ran for governor in 1972 and 1976 and the Senate in 1974, never making much of a difference. Then, in 1981, he shocked observers by becoming mayor of Burlington, the state's largest city, running as an avowed socialist. He went on to serve four terms. In 1986, as an independent, he won an impressive 15 percent in a gubernatorial bid. In 1988, he narrowly lost a race for the state's at-large congressional seat, running well ahead of the Democratic nominee. Two years later he won the seat and has held it with little trouble ever since.

    For Democrats to win control of the Senate next year, they may have to knock off GOP incumbents in Vermont and Delaware. As in Vermont, Delaware Democrats are waiting for an answer from their dream candidate. They're hoping that term-limited Gov. Tom Carper will run; he is expected to make a decision within the month. A Roth-Carper contest would be a face-off between two of the state's political giants. Democrats claim that Carper would win because Roth, first elected in 1970, has been in the Senate too long. Maybe, but he's been there only two years longer than the state's junior senator, Democrat Joe Biden.

    Question: Why isn't Gov. Dean running for president? He seems like an excellent prospect to me. – Jerry Johnson, Abingdon, Va.

    Answer: Dean won good reviews as chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 1997, and in the process he seemed to be bitten by the presidential bug. But at that time the odds seemed overwhelmingly in Vice President Gore's favor, so he announced in January of '98 that he wouldn't run. In addition, Vermont, with all three of its electoral votes, may be a less-than-ideal base for seeking the White House.

    Question: Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) may run for the Senate against incumbent Republican James Jeffords in 2000. Who was the last independent or third-party candidate to win a Senate seat? Was it James Buckley from New York in 1970? – Alex Tsimanis, Sacramento, Calif.

    Answer: It wasn't Buckley. The last independent to win a Senate seat was Virginia's Harry F. Byrd Jr. Originally elected as a Democrat, Byrd felt that his party was veering too far to the left. He bolted the Dems and ran (and won) twice as an independent, in 1970 and 1976. Buckley was the last third-party candidate to win a Senate seat; he won as a Conservative in 1970. For a complete list of independent and third-party senators, see the July 16 column.

    Question: Regarding the possible Senate run by Delaware Governor Carper, has there ever been a senator who has served as governor and in the House of Representatives? – Richard Puffer, Newark, Del.

    Caleb Boggs is the last Delaware pol to serve as senator, congressman and governor. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg fits that bill. A senator since 1993, Gregg served as governor for two terms (1989-93) and earlier spent eight years in the House (1981-89). If George Allen knocks off Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) next year, he'll qualify as well. Allen served as governor from 1994-98 and in the House from 1991-93. There have been others, most recently Arkansas Democrat David Pryor (Senate 1979-97, Governor 1975-79, House 1967-73). Actually, even if Carper won the Senate race next year, he wouldn't be the first lawmaker from Delaware to cover all three of those bases. J. Caleb Boggs (R) served two terms in the Senate (1961-73), two as governor (1953-60) and three in the House (1947-53).

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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