Jeffords plans another run for U.S. Senate

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(Host) Independent U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords says there’s no doubt in his mind that he’ll seek re-election in 2006. Jeffords has been actively fundraising because he’s convinced that Republicans are going to wage an active campaign to defeat him.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) While there’s a lot of speculation in Vermont political circles about whether Jeffords will seek re-election in 2006, there’s no question in Jeffords’ mind: he’s running for a fourth term in the Senate:

(Jeffords) “No doubt in my mind. I can end the whole discussion right there if you want!”

(Kinzel) Jeffords, who recently had cataract surgery, says his health is good and he’s ready for the challenge:

(Jeffords) “Well I’ve had the normal aging problems, which are being taken care of. I’ve got two new eyes, so whatever your perfect vision is I’ve got it. I’m very happy with that and that was the only thing that was of concern to me, immediately. I feel quite healthy otherwise and so I’m ready raring to go!”

(Kinzel) Jeffords, who left the Republican Party in the spring of 2001 in a move that gave the Democrats control of the Senate for 18 months, has sent out millions of fundraising letters to develop a national donor base for his independent candidacy.

The effort has been successful. Over 100,000 people have contributed more than $4.5 million to his campaign. Jeffords says he’s needs these funds to ward off a strong Republican challenge in 2006:

(Jeffords) “We’ve been very successful so far. My relationship with the independent people in this country seems to be very good, I believe, and will be ready for the fight of my life.”

(Kinzel) State Republicans are targeting Jeffords’ Senate seat. GOP state director Jim Barnet says Jeffords’ decision to leave the party is still a burning issue for many Republicans:

(Barnet) “People in the party remain disturbed by his decision, especially with the timing of it – so shortly after his own re-election as a Republican. So many people put in their time, effort and money to support him and then for him to so quickly turn his back on them, it stings. And for many people that sting hasn’t gone away.”

(Kinzel) Just as Jeffords has turned to a national donor base to raise money, Barnet thinks the Republicans could use a similar strategy to defeat him:

(Barnet) “I’m confident that whoever the standard bearer is for the Republican Party would find an overwhelming base of support, not only in Vermont but all around the country, for people who are interested in seeing Senator Jeffords defeated.”

(Kinzel) Barnet says the Party is having preliminary discussions with some prospective candidates to challenge Jeffords but he says it’s too early in the process for any of these individuals to be publicly identified.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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