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Socialist Sanders Poised to Win a Senate Seat

Guest poster Jennifer Nedeau considers the prospect of Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joining the Senate...


Bernie Sanders is comfortably ahead of his opponent in the Senate race. (By Toby Talbot -- Associated Press)

As Republicans attempt to motivate their base with dire predictions of a Congress run by uber-liberals like Nancy Pelosi, they seem at peace with the fact that a Vermont socialist is poised to take a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Vermont Rep. Bernard Sanders, according to most polls, is far ahead in his bid to win the seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Jeffords, the former Republican who went "independent" in 2001 after switching his support to the Democrats.

"If elected Tuesday, he would be the first self-proclaimed socialist to serve in the Senate," according Raja Mishra of the Boston Globe.

Mishra writes that "Bernie" could soon join the pantheon of other self-proclaimed socialists known by their first name only --"Fidel, Vladimir, and Karl." But Sanders is not seen as a stern ideologue. He calls himself a "democratic socialist," and served officially as an independent while in the House. And Sanders's leftist political leanings apparently appeal to Vermont's crunchy Ben and Jerry's population as well as the larger electorate within the state. He is considered an "affable figure among his constituents," who admire is "contrarian" streak, according to the Globe.

As an eight-term member of the House, Sanders is the closest thing to an incumbent in Vermont's Senate election. He even ran in the Democratic primary to keep out "intruders," according to the Burlington Free Press. However, after making an arrangement with Democratic Party leaders, Sanders "declined the nomination after winning the primary so he could run as usual as an independent."

In the 435-member House chamber Sanders did not make much of dent in the political debate. He could certainly have a larger impact in the 100-member Senate where smaller factions of lawmakers can control the outcome of major legislative actions and the rules allow for unlimited debate.

And though he plans to caucus with the Democrats, Sanders told The Globe that he has "some differences with the Democratic Party in not being strong enough in standing up for working families and taking on big money interests," and that being independent "allows me, interestingly enough, a lot of flexibility." He went on to say, "You'd be surprised. I can join coalitions with Republicans on an issue-by-issue basis."

Today's Washington Post profiled Sanders as well, noting that he's not afraid of a fight, even if it's with fellow leftists: "Sanders annoys some to his left (admittedly a rather small neighborhood). Peter Diamondstone -- who founded the Liberty Union and is running for the Senate this year -- has had more doctrinal splits with Bernie than they have fingers. Now 72, he recalls spending the night at Sanders's Burlington apartment in 1981. They argued over dinner, they argued over dessert, they argued deep into the night. After turning in, Diamondstone says, 'there was a few minutes of silence and we began yelling at each other up and down the stairs.'"

-- Jennifer Nedeau

By washingtonpost.com Editors  |  November 5, 2006; 2:08 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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