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Republicans reach out to Rainville

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Christine Fisher

Currently, there seems to be a game of political musical chairs going on in the Green Mountain State.

James Jeffords’ (I-VT) decision to resign from his position as U.S. senator has initiated a domino effect, as the popular Bernie Sanders (I-VT) vacates Vermont’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in his bid to secure the Democratic nomination for senator.

With Sanders’ former post up for grabs, the congressional race in Vermont, which will take place this fall, is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races in the nation, with Republican Martha T. Rainville, former adjutant general of the state of Vermont, and Peter Welch (D-Windsor County), who currently serves as the president pro tempore of the state senate, emerging as the major candidates.

Although Rainville will face competition from two other candidates in the Republican primary, the staunchly conservative State Sen. Mark Shepard (R-Bennington County) and Dennis Morrisseau, a former Burlington restaurateur, she already seems to be the darling of the GOP, with sizeable donations from top GOP leaders in the House such as Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and former Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO) already pouring in to help finance her campaign.

In addition to support from these political powerhouses, Rainville has also recently been added to the selective, “extra-special” list of financial recipients of the Retain Our Majority Program III 2006 political action committee (PAC), better known as ROMP. According to papers on file with the Federal Elections Committee (FEC) as of Apr. 14, nearly $130,000 of the $218,972 raised by the Rainville campaign as of the end of March originates from GOP-affiliated PACs such as ROMP.

However, her close ties with the GOP may ultimately diminish her ability to procure votes in one of the most liberal states in the Union that has no history of sending Republicans to the federal stratum.

In particular, her decision to accept a controversial $2,000 donation from Blunt, who not only has a bad reputation due to his close ties with scandal-ridden Tom DeLay, but who has also earned personal notoriety by being named one of the thirteen most corrupt members of Congress by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has garnered considerable criticism throughout Vermont. Negative editorials in the left-leaning Brattleboro Reformer and the right-leaning Caledonia Record alike demonstrate widespread disapproval from Vermonters, regardless of party affiliation.

First Lady Laura Bush’s May 19 visit to Vermont to endorse Rainville’s candidacy may further exacerbate these negative feelings by showing Rainville to be in cahoots with a Bush administration that is particularly unpopular in Vermont. Recent polls show that Bush’s approval rating in Vermont hovers in the mid-20 percent range, a good ten points lower than national approval. As pointed out by Professor of Political Science Eric Davis, “if Rainville is to win the race, she has to declare her independence from the Bush administration on important issues such as Iraq, tax cuts and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s future.”

The Welch camp seems well aware of Davis’ nugget of wisdom, as it has already begun to frame the campaign in such a manner to illustrate that a vote for Rainville translates into a tacit vote for Bush. Welch’s campaign manager, Carolyn Dwyer, has opened up the floor for criticism based on Bush’s expected arrival at the end of this month: “Rainville said she would stand up the Republican leadership, instead, she is embracing them.”

Her lack of a strong stance on Rumsfeld’s resignation will likely only add fodder to her critics’ arsenal. Although she has stated her desire that Rumsfeld retire of his own volition, she maintains that explicitly asking for Rumsfeld’s removal in the form of a resolution “isn’t going to be a silver bullet to fixing the Iraq situation at this point.”

Rainville continues to stand by the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq, believing that because the “ultimate responsibility” of the U.S. President is to protect his country, “we cannot take away the possibility for a preemptive strike out of the presidential toolbox.” Even so, she qualifies such statements by saying that preemption should only be used in “extremely rare and grave circumstances that represent a serious threat to U.S. security.”

Moreover, she specifically acknowledges areas where she believes the operative in Iraq went wrong: “Where it fell apart was the immediate post-invasion. The period where it should have been about quick stability and humanitarian assistance and getting the systems back up and running. Mistakes were made.”

Other issues central to the Rainville campaign include a three-pronged attack to identify and resolve the situation of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today, a reduction in inexplicably high gas prices and the reinvigoration of a Congress marked by stalemate and polarization.

On the issue of immigration, she hopes to first “know who is in the U.S., where they are and what they are doing,” and then work to “establish a path for earned opportunity.” She believes that “those who lead productive lives, pay taxes and make restitution should be able to eventually achieve citizenship,” as she acknowledges the great role played by immigrants in the U.S. economy, particularly in the agricultural and tourism industries.

If elected, she will also work to reduce high gas prices by moving the U.S. away from its heavy dependence on foreign oil. She supports research to get low-emission hydrogen-powered cars on the road within 15 years, tax incentives to build new ethanol, hydrogen and other alternative fuel stations, and general efforts to cut gas consumption. “We need to strengthen our current oil supply through new domestic oil and gas exploration without causing harm to the environment.” She also notes that the need to encourage the continued construction of domestic refineries, the number of which stands at 148, down from 324 in 1981.

Finally, citing statistics from an April 2006 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that only 22 percent of Americans currently approve of the job Congress is doing and 44 percent are tired of Democrats and Republicans fighting with each other, Rainville asserts her belief that “there needs to be some real effort on the part of both parties to restore the public faith in the institution. When I’m out talking with Vermonters, they’re pretty disgusted with everybody.”

Though that may be the case, and Rainville and Welch are both relative neophytes (recent polls indicate that about half the likely voters are still not able to rate either candidate favorably or unfavorably), it seems that Rainville has her work cut out for her as she runs for office in a state where “Yes Trees, No Bush” bumper stickers are the most likely accessory on fuel-efficient cars.

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