Category Archives: Politics

Sanders raises $15 million

MONTPELIER — Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign announced Thursday that he has raised $15 million for his White House bid since April 30 — an impressive number but far behind presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.

According to Sanders’ campaign, the $15 million in donations came from more than 400,000 contributions from about 250,000 individuals. The average donation has been $33.51, and 99 percent of the donations have been $250 or less.

The fundraising haul is significantly more than most pundits expected, and ahead of the pace President Barack Obama set when he defeated Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The self-described democratic socialist has been drawing enormous crowds on the campaign trail, including about 10,000 people in Madison, Wisc., Wednesday night. His poll numbers are on the rise, too, showing him surging in both New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first primary, and Iowa, home to the first caucus and first overall presidential contest.

In Iowa, a Sanders now trails Clinton by just 19 percentage points, according to a Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday. Clinton leads Sanders 52-33, but that is down significantly from May when she led 60-15.

In New Hampshire, a recent CNN poll showed Sanders with 8 percentage points of Clinton, 43-35 percent.

The campaign said it raised nearly all of its cash in online donations through Sanders’ campaign website. The numbers released Thursday will be used to filed required financial reports with the Federal Election Commission later this month.

Clinton’s campaign revealed Wednesday that she has received $45 million in contributions.

Listen: Capitol Beat 6-30-15, the Sanders Surge edition

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Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman discuss O’Gorman’s weekend swing through New Hampshire on the Bernie Sanders campaign trail.

Sanders says he will win the presidency

Sen. Bernie Sanders told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview Sunday on “This Week” that he will win the Iowa Caucus, New Hampshire primary, Democratic nomination for president and, ultimately, the presidency. Watch below:


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Sanders’ rapid rise brings challenges, opportunities

MONTPELIER — With his poll numbers surging and crowd sizes growing, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is on the rise. The sudden spike in interest from both voters and media presents opportunities and challenges, however, that the nascent campaign must now be nimble enough to respond to.

A CNN poll released last week pegged Sanders’ support at 35 percent in New Hampshire, just 8 points behind the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s a remarkable rise for Sanders, the 73-year-old self-described democratic socialist. Most political observers did not expect Sanders to pose a serious threat to Clinton, and certainly not this early in the primary process.

In Denver last weekend more than 5,000 supporters filled the gymnasium at the University of Colorado while an overflow group watched on screens outside. Large crowds have also gathered in New Hampshire, Iowa and Minneapolis to hear Sanders’ populist stump speech and are embracing his economic message.

But with such sudden and intense interest comes potential pitfalls.

Bob Rogan, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and the former deputy campaign manager on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2003 and 2004, said there are significant challenges and pressures on a campaign when it suddenly catches fire. Dean, the former Democratic governor of Vermont, vaulted to the front of the Democratic primary pack in 2004, largely as a result of his opposition to the Iraq war, before fizzling in the Iowa caucus and dropping out of the race.

“It’s a bit like catching a tiger by the tail. The campaign is constantly trying to catch up to the candidate. You are excited about the crowds but the crowds create organizational and staffing demands on the campaign. The struggle is when there is a gap between the campaign’s capacity and the candidate’s trajectory,” Rogan said.

Perhaps nobody knows the challenges better than Dean himself.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on the cover of Time in 2003.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on the cover of Time in 2003.

“The problems for me arose coming from a base of 600,000 people. My rating in the polls surpassed all of the things that you have to do to keep up,” Dean said. “The biggest problem we had was getting the campaign organization ramped up to the degree that someone like John Kerry and Dick Gephardt would have with all that service in Washington.”

Sanders’ team is attempting to beef up its organization to match the blossoming interest. It recently several more staffers in Iowa and opened its first campaign office in Des Moines. Efforts to boost the organization are now focused on the Granite State, where Sanders’ poll numbers are even stronger, spokesman Michael Briggs said.

“As Bernie has said many times, other campaigns are going to have more resources to do more things, but we’re a scrappy operation that’s making the best of an increasingly interesting and good situation,” he said. “Are we going to need more people as this thing grows? Yeah. Are we going to need to figure out better ways to help people who want to help him? Yes, and we’re working on that.”

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Welch declines bid for governor

This story was updated at 12:35 p.m.

MONTPELIER — Congressman Peter Welch said Friday he will seek re-election to the U.S. House in 2016, ending speculation that he might instead return to Vermont and run for governor.

Welch, a Democrat, openly flirted with the notion of running for governor after Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month he would not run for a fourth, two-year. But after two weeks of consideration, Welch said Friday that he can best serve Vermonters in Congress and would not run for the “distinct honor” of being governor.

“Congress these days is not highly regarded by the American people, but strange as it may seem, I really continue to love my job,” Welch told reporters on a conference call from Washington, D.C., Friday morning. “I’ve been here in the Tea Party Congress where it’s much tougher going, for sure, but where I’ve been able … to do things that have been a major benefit to Vermont.”

Rep. Peter Welch

Rep. Peter Welch

Welch, 68, has a long track record as a legislator. He served two stints in the Senate, from 1981 to 1989, and from 2001 to 2006. His time in the Vermont Senate included several terms as Senate President Pro Tem. He also sought the governorship in 1990, losing to former Republican Gov. Richard Snelling.

The fifth-term congressman touted his ability to work across the political aisle as his main reason for seeking re-election to the House. He has been effective in pushing energy efficiency initiatives alongside some Republican colleagues. He also noted major legislation signed into law during his tenure, including the federal stimulus package stemming from the Great Recession and the Affordable Care Act.

“I am beginning to see signs of change here in Congress among more of my Democratic colleagues and more of my Republican colleagues that we’ve got to get things done. We need problem solvers here. We need people that have credibility,” Welch said. “I’m in a position to do that. I’m in a position to do that because Vermonters have elected me four times to represent them in Congress. That’s a big commitment.”

Welch said he received support from Vermonters, both for seeking re-election to Congress and running for governor. Among those that reached out to him, Welch said half urged him to stay in Congress and half encouraged him to return to Vermont. Those that wanted him to run for governor cited “my bipartisan, problem-solving and practical, civil approach would be something that would be helpful,” Welch said.

The decision, he said, was devoid of politics and based on personal factors. He said he conducted no polling as he considered his future.

“I’m confident that I’m in a good place with voters,” he said. “I basically just had to make my own gut check.”

The draw of returning to Vermont is strong, Welch said, but advocating for Vermonters in Washington ultimately won.

“In all candor, I was torn by it,” he said. “I come home every week, but, wouldn’t it be better to be home every night? That was the real challenge to me. It’s just so much nicer to be in Vermont than it is in Washington. I just had to work through that, but there wasn’t, like, a tipping point or a moment.”

Welch’s decision is likely to unfreeze the decision-making process of several top-tier Democratic candidates for governor. House Speaker Shap Smith and former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne had both said they would defer to Welch if he ran for governor. A spirited Democratic Party primary is now likely.

Smith said Friday he has not yet determined his own future.

“I am seriously considering running for governor and I expect to make a decision and an announcement soon,” he said. “I had been very clear that I wasn’t going to run against Congressman Welch in a primary, so it does make things clearer and I do expected to make a decision soon whether I will run in 2016.”

House Speaker Shap Smith

House Speaker Shap Smith

Smith said he has received “a lot of encouragement from the people I’ve talked to” to jump into the race. He said the conversation with his family is ongoing.

“I’m still talking with my family about what it will be like for me and for the family to be in the middle of a campaign. Those conversations have been good, but I think it’s important for them and for me to really understand what it means to run for governor over the next 14 months.”

In perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, he said an announcement will probably come in the form of an event, not a press release.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is also considering a run, had said Welch’s decision would have no impact on his decision.

Welch said he has no plans to back a candidate any time soon.

“I don’t even know who’s going to run,” he said. “This is going to unfold and there’s a lot of good people who are contemplating the race. Let’s see what happens,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Exchange work to continue, despite SCOTUS ruling

MONTPELIER — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down Thursday ensures that some Vermonters will continue to be eligible for federal subsidies through Obamacare if the state opts to abandon Vermont Health Connect later this year.

The court upheld a major challenge to the Affordable Care Act in a 6-3 ruling Thursday, ensuring that nearly 9 million people receiving federal subsidies under the law can continue to receive them regardless of where they live. The challenge to the law contended that the subsidies were only available to states that created their own exchanges, like Vermont.

VHCThe challenge could have had major consequences in Vermont had the court ruled the other way. The state’s exchange, Vermont Health Connect, continues to face technology challenges. Some major functions that were supposed to be part of the state’s online health insurance marketplace continue to struggle.

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has said the state would look to transition to the federal exchange if those functions were not working properly this fall. Vermonters will continue to receive federal subsidies in that event because of the court’s ruling Thursday.

Shumlin issued a statement Thursday after the ruling was announced saying the administration is continuing to work on Vermont Health Connect to ensure it works properly for Vermonters.

“We are making progress to deliver the services Vermonters expect through Vermont Health Connect. We have insured nearly 20,000 Vermonters who previously did not have insurance, and now Vermont has the second lowest rate of uninsured in the nation,” he said.

The state completed an upgrade to the website earlier this month to incorporate the so-called change-of-circumstance function. When fully implemented, it will allow customers to make life change to their accounts online, including marriage, death, birth of a child or a change in jobs. Another function, automated policy renewals, should be up and running this fall.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who has said he is considering a run for governor, used the ruling Thursday to call for Vermont to abandon its own exchange. Scott has been a critic of Vermont Health Connect’s challenges.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

“For 18 months, officials have dismissed repeated calls to explore alternatives to our dysfunctional exchange, saying to do so would put Vermonters at risk of losing their subsidies. Now, with today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal subsidies can be offered in both state and federal health care exchanges, that fear is eliminated, and it’s clear we must immediately explore alternatives to Vermont Health Connect,” Scott said.

Scott called for immediately looking into a regional partnership with nearby states, creating a state-federal hybrid system or simply shifting to the federal exchange.

“For far too long, Vermonters have been underserved and frustrated by this $200 million system. Now that the fear of losing subsidies is no longer a valid argument, we must find the best path to affordable, accessible health insurance for every Vermonter,” he said.

But Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, said Thursday’s ruling does not change the administration’s thinking and officials will continue to work on VHC.

“I think we’ve been clear that going to the federal exchange would still have substantial costs and complications for Vermonters. We would still need to figure out a way to deliver Vermont premium assistance because that’s not a part of the federal exchange,” Miller said.

Vermont is just one of two states that offer state-level financial assistance for customers on the exchange.

Miller said the state would still need to improve VHC even if the state moved to the federal exchange because it administers the state’s Medicaid program, including eligibility and enrollment. And, Miler said, insurance carriers in Vermont would have to devise a new integration model with the federal system.

Lawrence Miller

Lawrence Miller

“It would add substantial cost and complication. That is why we will still remain focused on the work at Vermont Health Connect and getting the level of service to what Vermonters expect,” he said.

Miller said he is glad the uncertainty brought about by the challenge has been settled.

“I’m very pleased with the decision. I think it’s the right decision,” Miller said. “The surprise really was when they took it, in my mind, and that raised a significant amount of uncertainty. If two more justices had seen it the way [Justice Antonin] Scalia (who wrote the dissenting opinion) did a lot of Americans would be having a very bad day.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Vermont NEA endorses Sanders

MONTPELIER — The Vermont NEA, the state’s largest union, announced its endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders Wednesday in the 2016 presidential race.

“We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known,” Vermont NEA president Martha Allen said in a statement. “Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: he is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”

Allen said the union, which represents about 12,000 teachers throughout Vermont, has been a longtime supporter of Sanders because of his support for the working class, as well as for his views on public education and economic inequality.

logoAllen said union members will begin helping to spread Sanders’ message, particularly across the state border in New Hampshire.

“In Vermont, we’re very fortunate to have a senator who represents the middle class over the titans of Wall Street,” she said. “We believe that with Bernie in the White House, America’s working families will be able to flourish and grow. His ideas around banking reform, student debt, and public education are refreshing and exciting.”

The endorsement is the first union backing Sanders has received. The South Carolina AFL-CIO’s executive board recently passed a resolution supporting Sanders’ candidacy. The executive board will recommend that the state and national labor organization endorse him.

T.J. Donovan to run for AG

MONTPELIER — Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan says he will run for attorney general regardless of whether longtime incumbent Bill Sorrell decides to seek re-election.

Donovan, 41, came close to knocking off Sorrell in a 2012 Democratic primary for the state’s top law enforcement position. Donovan lost to Sorrell, who was appointed to the position in 1997 by former Gov. Howard Dean and has won re-election each cycle since, by just 714 votes.

Donovan opted to sit out the 2014 race and instead concentrated on his work in Chittenden County. That work has garnered plenty of attention statewide and has served, in some cases, as pilot projects for the state.

Donovan was honored Friday evening at the Vermont Democratic Party’s annual awards dinner. He did not reveal his plans at the time, however. Instead, Donovan said Monday that he “finalized in my mind over the course of the weekend” that he would run for attorney general again.

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan. (Photo courtesy of VPR)

Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. (Photo courtesy of VPR)

“It just makes sense for me to put it out there and end the speculation,” he said. “I received a lot of support on Friday night. I see no reason to be coy. I figured I would put it out there that I’m running.”

Seven Days was first to report Donovan’s decision to run.

Speculation had been running wild for Donovan, and other potential candidates for various statewide offices, since Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month that he would not seek a fourth term in 2016. Many political observers wondered if Donovan would opt to run for governor. Continue reading

Sanders surging, shaping the debate

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage at a Drake University auditorium on a recent Friday to wild applause and several standing ovations before he was even introduced. It was the first of several events he held on a weekend swing through Iowa in his quixotic quest for the presidency.

“Whoa, we’ve got a lot of people here tonight!” the 73-year-old told the adoring crowd. “Sometimes our campaign has been referred to as a fringe campaign. Well, if this is fringe I would hate to see mainstream.”

Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator and a self-described democratic socialist, launched his bid for president on the shore of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt., in late May in front of thousands of supporters. Since then he has drawn impressive crowds in Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota. More large crowds were expected this weekend in Nevada and Colorado.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s an auspicious start for a long-shot candidate that many expected to serve as a stalking horse for liberal candidates, perhaps for fellow liberal Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley, the polished-looking former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor who is 20 years his junior.

But Sanders’ star has risen quickly, along with his most recent poll numbers. As he motored around Iowa in his rented white sedan, reporters from CNN, the Washington Post, Politico and other national organizations followed, along with a reporter from Vermont interested in how Iowans would react to the sometimes prickly man with unruly white hair and a Brooklyn accent. Continue reading

Watch: Report From Washington on Vermont PBS

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami hosted “Report From Washington” this week with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. Watch the full program below.

Capitol Beat 6-17-15

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Times Argus Editor Steve Pappas and Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami discuss Sen. Bernie Sanders’ weekend campaign swing through Iowa, and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s recent interview on “City Room with Steve Pappas.”

 

Sanders rallies supporters at Iowa union hall

MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA — Hundreds packed a union hall for a town hall meeting in rural Marshalltown as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign learned of progress toward a major union endorsement in South Carolina.

The United Automobile Workers Local 893 hosted Vermont’s junior senator, where he delivered portions of his rehearsed stump speech before fielding questions from the audience. The labor-friendly crowd was receptive and enthusiastic as the 73-year-old Sanders appealed for them to join the political revolution he his hoping to incite.

“The powers of Wall Street and corporate America and the big money interests are so powerful that … the only way we defeat them … is when millions of people are united and are standing up and saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” Sanders said. “If I win this thing, let me tell you, I’m gonna be back the day after the election because I can’t do it alone.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the UAW Local 893 hall in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the UAW Local 893 hall in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The self-described democratic socialist blasted the $7.25 per hour minimum wage, calling it “a starvation wage.” He said a Sanders administration would seek a $15 per hour minimum wage as some cities have done.

“That is exactly what we should be doing at the federal level,” he said.

Sanders also decried the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that was rejected by the U.S. House on Friday, saying it would lead to further outsourcing of American jobs. Continue reading

Sanders opens first Iowa office, criticizes Clinton’s record

DES MOINES, IOWA — Sen. Bernie Sanders opened his first state office in Iowa Saturday as his campaign gears up to battle Hillary Clinton in the Hawkeye State’s February caucus.

Several dozen supporters, volunteers and the handful of staffers running the new office, just a few feet down the hall from Clinton’s Iowa office, listened to the self-described democratic socialist outline some of his differences with the former First Lady, New York senator and secretary of state.

Vermont’s junior senator was critical of Clinton, who held a large kick-off rally with thousands of supporters Saturday on Roosevelt Island in New York City, for her voting record and avoiding a strong stance on some issues.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office in Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

“I voted agains the war in Iraq, and I think history will absolutely record that as being the right vote. Secretary Clinton voted for it,” Sanders said.

He hailed the U.S. House’s rejection Friday of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and faulted Clinton for not taking a clear position, saying “You can be for it, you can be against it, but I don’t understand how you can have no opinion on this issue, and sadly, that is the secretary’s position.”

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VIDEO: Sanders town hall in Des Moines

Sen. Bernie Sanders held a town hall meeting at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium on Friday, June 12, 2015. Watch video from the event below:

Sanders fills auditorium in Des Moines

DES MOINES, IOWA — Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off a strong showing in a Wisconsin straw poll, began a weekend trip to the Hawkeye State Friday night by delivering a rousing version of his stump speech at Drake University.

Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator, is looking to maintain the momentum he has seen at recent campaign events in Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota. The self-described democratic socialist remains far behind Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, New York senator and secretary of state in the Democratic primary, according to national polls.

Clinton is holding a formal campaign kick-off event in New York City Saturday and is then expected to make her own trip to Iowa.

Sanders, meanwhile, has been attracting large, enthusiastic crowds at campaign events since formally announcing his bid for the White House in Burlington, Vt., late last month. With his more than $6 million in contributions since his announcements, Sanders has emerged as the most credible threat to Clinton, polling well ahead of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at Drake University's Sheslow Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa.

Last week, Sanders had a surprisingly strong showing in a straw poll at the Wisconsin Democratic convention, earning the support 41 percent of the delegates to Clinton’s 49 percent.

Sanders, who filled the 773-seat Sheslow Auditorium, thrilled the crowd with the same message he’s been delivering to Vermonters for decades.

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