Polls: One-man socialist show could open in Senate( )
POSTED: 6:15 p.m. EDT, October 11, 2006

BURLINGTON, Vermont (AP) -- For three decades, Rep. Bernie Sanders has been a party of one, an avowed socialist who rails against corporate America, Republicans, Democrats and all those he believes fail the poor and working families.

Now 65, the Brooklyn-born independent and his crusade could end up in the Senate.

Polls put Sanders comfortably ahead of Republican Richard Tarrant, a wealthy businessman who has spent more than $5 million of his own money trying to buy the name recognition Sanders enjoys after eight years as mayor of Vermont's largest city and 16 years in the House. Sanders would succeed Sen. James Jeffords, a Republican turned independent who is retiring.

Sanders has forged a unique coalition during his political career, gaining the backing of Republicans, Democrats and those who believe that they've been ignored by the people in power.

"In my heart and soul, based on where I grew up and what my life was like as a kid, the economic issues to me are the most important," the eight-term lawmaker said.

Sanders remains committed to the ideals of the democratic socialists of northern Europe, believing that government spending -- combined with market forces -- is the best way to achieve social justice and social equity.

"I am prepared to stand up to the big-money interests," he said, his voice rising and his signature New York accent growing more pronounced with every syllable. "I am prepared to talk about the growing gap between rich and poor. I'm prepared to talk about the fact that, in many ways, we are becoming an oligarchic society with a few people on top who have tremendous wealth while the middle class is shrinking, people are working very, very hard to keep their heads above water and poverty is increasing.

He added: "How many people do you know in the Senate who talk about that issue? Well, I will talk about that issue."

That's vintage Sanders. And it's the kind of stuff that sets his detractors' teeth on edge.

"Part of it is just his mannerisms and his Brooklyn accent and his kind of loud reaction to things," said Sara Gear Boyd, Burlington, Vermont's longtime Republican national committeewoman. "He's always kind of in-your-face with his reactions. Then, philosophically, he's worlds apart from the way most Republicans think. His solutions are truly much more socialistic, and that just kind of grates."

Critics say he's great in front of a television camera but not so great at finding solutions.

"He's always finding someone to blame for the pain you and I feel," said William Gilbert, a prominent Republican activist who also has worked for Democrats over the years.

Those complaints are the very reasons that Sanders' legions of supporters like him.

"He's a real person," said Lori Stratton, 38, of Plainfield, who has a Sanders campaign sticker on her car's bumper. "He's genuinely concerned about issues that are important to Vermonters and anyone who wants a safe world. He looks into things and knows what he's talking about. He's principled and honest."

Jim Rader, who was Burlington city clerk when Sanders was mayor and who knew him when he was a student at the University of Chicago, believes Sanders is genuine.

"I think he came to politics out of some deep convictions and concerns," Rader said. "And I think people pick up on that. It doesn't come from a shallow place. It's from deep within him."

Sanders says his accomplishments include focusing attention on Gulf War veterans, helping IBM workers fight a change in their pension plan and steering trade-adjustment aid to people thrown out of work by globalization.

He says he knows how to reach across the aisle, citing his bipartisan cooperation on heating-aid legislation and dairy policy. But he doesn't budge when he thinks he's right.

Sanders was one of only 14 congressmen who voted against a bill that would have set up a coordinator for the Amber Alert system, which warns when a child has been kidnapped. He said he supports Amber Alert but feels that sentencing provisions in the bill were unconstitutional.

His antagonism is a holdover from his earliest days as Burlington's independent mayor, when he shocked the conservative Democratic establishment in 1981 by defeating an incumbent Democrat by just 10 votes, the first election he'd won in 10 years of trying as a member of the Liberty Union Party.

"Most people do not assume public office by defeating the Democratic and Republican parties and having them fighting you almost every step of the way," he said. "It's something that you don't forget."

Nonetheless, even Sanders' critics believe he's mellowed over the years and has learned to work with Republicans. He even earned the Democratic nomination for the Senate in September, although he promptly declined it. Democrats have not put up another candidate against Sanders, who caucuses with House Democrats.

Sanders might fit right in if he's elected, said congressional scholar Ross Baker, a Rutgers University professor who describes Sanders as "politically adroit."

"The Senate is home to iconoclasts and eccentrics. It's part of the charm of the place," Baker said. "The Senate has accommodated a very, very bewildering array of characters over the years. It's a remarkably flexible institution

*Hehehh.. A SOCIALIST in the Senate!! Might be enough to cause a few old conservative coots to croak! *