MONTPELIER, Vt. — With an approval rating of 80 percent in his home state — the highest of any U.S. senator — Bernie Sanders would appear to have a lot of weight to throw around. But so far he’s not putting it behind the Democratic nominee for Vermont governor.
That’s raised eyebrows of some Vermont Democrats, who wonder why Sanders, a left-leaning independent senator and former Democratic presidential candidate, has not endorsed Sue Minter in her campaign against Republican Phil Scott to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Sanders told The Associated Press on Thursday he’s been busy stumping around the country for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Democrats running for the U.S. Senate. From Wednesday through the weekend, his schedule included stops in several Midwestern states — four in Michigan on Thursday — with appearances planned Friday and on the weekend in Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
“Right now what I’m focused on is to do everything I can to see that Donald Trump is not elected president and that Hillary Clinton is,” Sanders said. Sanders has said Trump, the Republican nominee, has made bigotry and divisiveness the cornerstone of his campaign.
He said it’s also important for Democrats to regain control of the U.S. Senate.
Sanders said he hasn’t spoken with Minter in more than six months. “I look forward to talking to her as soon as I have five minutes,” he said. “I hope to do that as soon as possible.”
Minter’s campaign said little about the elusive endorsement, releasing a statement saying Minter “looks forward to working with Bernie Sanders to advance Vermont’s progressive values and to fight for paid family leave, a higher minimum wage and affordable college tuition.”
Sanders has endorsed other Vermont politicians, including David Zuckerman, a longtime stalwart of Vermont’s Progressive Party who has run in recent years both as a Progressive and Democrat for his state Senate seat. Zuckerman is the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, running against Republican Randy Brock.
Zuckerman said he reached out to Sanders over a number of months. “He endorses very selectively,” Zuckerman said.
Sanders also endorsed incumbent state Sen. Anthony Pollina, another Progressive-Democrat, and Rep. Chris Pearson, a Progressive running for state Senate. Both Pollina and Pearson previously worked for Sanders. Zuckerman added, “I’ve known him for 25 years.”
Other Democrats appeared reluctant to grouse publicly about a lack of love so far from Sanders.
“I think most folks in the party are still hopeful that he’s going to weigh in to this (governor’s) race,” said Conor Casey, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party.
Sanders has had a bumpy relationship at times with Vermont Democrats. Running for governor in 1986, he complained that there wasn’t enough daylight between Democrats and Republicans, calling them “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”
Some leading Vermont Democrats, including Shumlin and former Gov. Howard Dean, endorsed Clinton during the presidential primaries, and Minter held off on endorsing Sanders until the day of the Vermont primary in March.
Democrat T.J. Donovan, the Chittenden County prosecutor running for attorney general against Republican lawyer Deborah Buckham, said he agrees with Sanders’ stances on criminal justice reform.
“If we could get his endorsement obviously we would love it,” Donovan said. “I’m sure he will be there at the end when we need him most.”