MONTPELIER — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has finally proffered his coveted endorsement to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter and the entire slate of statewide Democratic candidates.
Sanders, easily the most popular politician in the state, announced his endorsements in a news release Thursday afternoon without any fanfare. They include U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, his colleagues in Congress. For state offices, Sanders is backing Treasurer Beth Pearce, Auditor Doug Hoffer, Secretary of State Jim Condos and T.J. Donovan for attorney general.
Chittenden County Sen. David Zuckerman, the Democratic and Progressive nominee for lieutenant governor, was previously endorsed by Sanders.
Sanders’ endorsement of Minter could have the greatest impact. Minter is engaged in a tight race with popular Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Sanders’ popularity could help tip the scale in Minter’s favor if the race remains tight.
In a statement announcing his support, Sanders touted Minter’s plan to offer two free years of college at Vermont Technical College and the Community College of Vermont. Sanders’ presidential campaign, which came up short against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, called for free tuition at all public colleges and universities.
“Sue Minter understands that the key for Vermont’s economic future is opening up higher education to all Vermonters, regardless of income,” Sanders said. “That’s why, if elected governor, she will work to make community colleges and Vermont Tech tuition free.”
Minter told the Vermont Press Bureau Thursday that Sanders’ endorsement was offered because of their shared commitment to several issues.
“I’m definitely excited to receive Bernie’s support. I’m looking forward to hitting the campaign trail with him when he comes back and spends a little more time here,” she said. “I share a lot in common with what Bernie has been talking about across the country, whether it’s trying to make higher education more affordable for Vermonters or helping the middle class.”
The endorsement comes on the heels of a meeting the two had on Wednesday, according to Minter.
“We spent about an hour together and talked about politics. I’ve worked with Bernie for years so he’s not a stranger. It was really the first time he was able to come back to Vermont and talk about the campaign,” she said.
Sanders said in his statement that he “looks forward to campaigning with the statewide candidates in the near future.”
Vermont Democrats had been growing impatient with Sanders as he focused on campaigning for Clinton at the expense of Democratic candidates in Vermont. Sanders, who has made several appearances for Clinton around the country in recent weeks, was beaten in the primary by Clinton after a long, sometimes-frosty campaign, but has committed to campaigning for her to help ensure that Republican nominee Donald Trump does not win the presidency.
Conor Casey, the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, expressed frustration to the Vermont Press Bureau last week.
“I think we’re still hopeful that we’ll see more endorsements coming out from Bernie. We know it’s been a tough road, the campaign, but we agree with his concept of a political revolution and believe in some respects that it should start at home in Vermont. There’s a number of candidates in the state that very much share Bernie’s vision, and I think if you look at the governors’ race, I think Sue Minter’s platform resembles Bernie’s,” Casey said.
Sanders, who has served as an independent during his tenure in the U.S. House and Senate, ran for the first time as a Democrat in the presidential primary. He has had a tenuous relationship with Democrats at times in the past, including the Vermont Democratic Party.
Donovan, the Chittenden County state’s attorney running against Republican Deb Bucknam, was the only other candidate Sanders spoke directly about in his announcement. Sanders touted Donovan’s approach to criminal justice reform.
“T.J. Donovan understands that criminal justice is about more than just sending people to jail. As attorney general he will help create a Vermont criminal justice system that focuses on preventing crime through early intervention, job training and educational opportunities for at-risk Vermonters,” Sanders said.