Monday, September 10, 2012

Vermont U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Vermont U.S. Senate

September 10, 2012
57 Days Until Election Day

Status: Independent Democrat Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Safe Democrat

This race is classified as Safe Democrat, because the incumbent who appears to be an overwhelming favorite to be reelected officially received the Democrat Party's nomination, and will continue to vote in the Senate to organize with the party, but it is worth noting that he has long refused to call himself a Democrat or identify with the party.

In fact, freshman Senator Bernie Sanders is an avowed and proud socialist. At a time when conservatives often toss that label at Democrats, and those Democrats to go great lengths to deny that they have views in line with socialism, Sanders does not dispute the association and he is about as popular as any Senator in the Capitol with many Democrat and other left-wing activists, as he calls for that party to move even more towards the left. The fact that Democrats find so much to admire about Sanders' unabashed socialism is perhaps telling.

It is also telling that Sanders is pretty well liked in Vermont. While the state is pretty liberal leaning, and has only grown more so in recent years, a lot of the voters who might not agree with the politician on every issue, are seemingly willing to look past those differences and send him back to Washington. Throughout the 1970s, the left wing activist Sanders was a perennial third party candidate for statewide office in Vermont but never came close to victory. By the 1980s, he was elected Mayor of Burlington, while also taking part in a few more losing statewide efforts.

The year 1990 brought about a political upset as Sanders was elected to Congress as Vermont's lone representative, becoming the first Independent to do so in 40 years. For quite some time, the unkempt nutty professor like image of Sanders led many to believe he was a fluke who would ultimately be unseated, but with each passing reelection victory, he became more entrenched as part of the state's political establishment. When a U.S. Senate seat opened up in 2006, no official Democrat chose to challenge him and the party apparatus backed him for higher office, as they had eventually done so in his House runs. Republicans were hopeful that Sanders ideological bent and quixotic efforts on behalf of left-wing causes might make it tougher for people to accept him as a member of the more stolid Senate, but he easily won a seat in the body, more than 34 years after his first attempt.

This year, no formal Democrat decided to run for the Senate, and while Sanders has been endorsed by both the Democrat and Progressive parties in the state, he is reportedly expected to formally decline them (if he has not already) and simply remain on the ballot as an Independent.

The August primary produced an easy winner on the GOP side. John MacGovern served eight years as a Massachusetts State Representative, ending after lost a close Congressional race in the Bay State as the Republican nominee in 1990. Sometime after the businessman moved to neighboring Vermont, as many other people from Massachusetts have done and has unsuccessfully sought election to the State Senate on a couple of occasions. Now, since other more well-known Republicans declined to take on Sanders, he has this opportunity to run statewide in the Green Mountain State.

Fifteen years ago, this likely would have been a much different sort of race, but Sanders is just taken for granted in Vermont now, basically as just another Democrat, and if some early polling is any indication, he will have no trouble at all securing a second term.

MacGovern campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 16 D, 12 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 46 D, 49 R