- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

BARRE, Vt. (AP) — Rep. Bernard Sanders jabs at the air, his flushed face a sharp contrast to his unruly white hair. Yet again, he pummels Washington, the Congress and the president.

?The government that we have today in the White House, the House of Representatives with Tom DeLay, the Senate with Bill Frist, is the most right-wing, extremist government, perhaps in the history of the United States,? the U.S. representative tells labor activists at a May Day celebration.

?Time after time, they pass legislation that benefits the rich and the powerful, and they pass legislation that hurts the middle class, working people and low-income people.?

The crowd roars. They have come to hear this unlikely man who is likely to be the next U.S. senator from the Green Mountain State, and they love what they hear. This is Mr. Sanders, an independent, at his best: one part revivalist preaching, two parts theater, all served up with a biting sarcasm.

It is vintage Mr. Sanders — literally. The words and the message have not changed in more than 30 years. For half of those years, though, Mr. Sanders has been part of the Washington he loves to attack.

In his eighth term in the U.S. House, the independent socialist has carved out a career in Congress as a Congress-basher. Now he is setting his sights on the Senate, and everyone agrees he is the man to beat for the seat now held by the retiring Sen. James M. Jeffords, also an independent.

?He is the front-runner. Absolutely,? said Del Ali of Research 2000 of Rockville, which has conducted political polls in Vermont for many years. ?He has high favorability ratings, high name recognition and lots of money.?

This is an astonishing position for a man who spent the 1970s as a political gadfly and the 1980s as the independent mayor of Burlington, a man who seemed destined for disaster when he first arrived in Congress in 1991.

He was the odd man out: an independent in an institution that revolves around the two-party system; a socialist in a chamber dominated by centrists and conservatives; a freshman in a world that favors seniority. His style was abrasive in an institution that rewards collegiality.

Mr. Sanders remains a socialist, although not a member of the Socialist Party.

Jim Barnett, the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, is dedicated to ensuring that Mr. Sanders never arrives in the Senate. As often as Mr. Sanders uses the word ?extremist? to describe Republican leaders in Washington, Mr. Barnett uses it to describe Mr. Sanders.

?The Senate race will give Vermonters a new opportunity to more closely scrutinize Bernie Sanders’ extremist record in Congress,? he said. ?Extremism, futility and abrasiveness are not qualities that Vermonters have traditionally looked for in their senators.?

His most likely Republican challengers are Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Richard Tarrant, chairman of IDX, a medical software company. In early May, a poll for WCAX-TV put Mr. Sanders ahead of Mr. Dubie, 59 percent to 23 percent and ahead of Mr. Tarrant, 62 percent to 18 percent.

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