Democratic Vermont Leaders Fail To Endorse Sanders For President

May 21, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders

Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders may be popular among the dispossessed and a segment of the Democratic Party, but he’s not getting support from key leaders in his home state as he mounts his presidential campaign.

Bernie Sanders served as mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989.  He captured Vermont’s only U.S. House seat in 1990 and won a spot in the Senate in 2007.  The independent caucuses with the Democrats and  is running for president as one.

On the day Sanders announced the details of his hometown presidential campaign kickoff, Vermont Governor Democrat Peter Shumlin tweeted his endorsement of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.  Vermont’s senior Senator Democrat Patrick Leahy has already endorsed Clinton.  The Democratic leader of the Vermont House, Shap Smith, says he will probably follow suit and endorse Clinton.   

In an email to WAMC, Bob Rogan, Congressman Peter Welch’s Chief of Staff, says the Democrat “…has not yet endorsed a candidate.  Like all Vermonters, he wishes Senator Sanders well on the campaign trail.”

Welch spoke on WAMC’s Congressional Corner in April hours before Sanders joined the race.  “Bernie went from being really a marginal third party candidate to winning mayor of Burlington by 10 votes to being probably Vermont’s most popular politician and U.S. Senator. So we in Vermont had a chance to get to know Bernie and to see what a committed and honest person he was.”

Middlebury College Professor emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis says Sanders’ history as an independent is a factor in the lack of Vermont endorsements.  “He’s been an Independent for his entire political career and does not list himself on Vermont ballots as a Democrat. These other people all are Democrats and they have been Democrats their entire political career. So they’re endorsing someone, Hilary Clinton, who has also been a Democrat her entire political career. ”

University of Vermont Professor of Political Science Garrison Nelson agrees that political positioning is driving the endorsements.  “Bernie is an insurgent. What we’re dealing with right now is a fascinating situation where they like Bernie, they don’t think Bernie has a shot at it, and why antagonize the Clintons who have an unfortunate tendency for revenge. Bernie understands he will be really hard pressed to expect any kind of endorsements from the organizational party.”

Vermont political analyst Chris Graff says it’s no surprise that Sanders is failing to receive Democratic backing.   “Most of those establishment endorsements were locked up by Hilary Clinton within the last year. I think what is going to be critical for Bernie Sanders is whether Hilary Clinton will debate him before Iowa.”  

The Ethan Allen Institute is a conservative think tank in Vermont.  President Rob Roper also believes the lack of local endorsements is due to party loyalty.  “Bernie caucuses with the Democrats. He’s planning on running for president as a Democrat.  But he’s always been an independent, as a democratic-socialist, to use his term. I really don’t think that the mainstream Democratic party really wants to be associated with a Socialist.”

Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told WAMC that it’s a free country and Governor Shumlin is free to endorse whomever he wants.  He added it also means there’ll be more free Ben and Jerry’s available at the campaign kickoff event Tuesday in Burlington.