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Money, Experience Are Issues That Divide Leahy And Milne In Spirited Debate

Angela Evancie
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Scott Milne, left, VPR's Peter Hirschfeld and Democratic incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy in VPR's studios during Wednesday's debate.

On Wednesday afternoon, Republican candidate for Senate Scott Milne got his first and only chance at a one-on-one debate with incumbent Democrat Patrick Leahy. He used the occasion to level some blistering criticism at his opponent, but Leahy says voters won’t respond favorably to the “negative” campaign tactics.

Milne wasted no time getting to the two issues that have defined his campaign for the U.S. Senate. In response to an opening question about what he’d do as a senator to improve economic prospects for Vermonters, Milne offered this: 

“First of all, I think what’s gone wrong in Washington over the last 50 years is this deadly concoction of career politicians being propped up election after election by special interest money,” Milne said.

For Milne, incumbent Sen. Leahy is the embodiment of that “deadly concoction.” And he says the senator’s 42-year tenure, and his campaign’s reliance on contributions from corporate political action committees, render him incapable of representing Vermonters effectively in Washington, D.C.

“You’re a poster child for getting sucked into this love-of-money way of getting your political career extended,” Milne says. “My election will be a message from Vermont that we’re sick and tired of the way things are going in Washington. We need to have a government for the many, not for the few.”

Leahy says Milne’s admonitions aren’t resonating with voters. According to recent polls by VPR and WCAX, Leahy holds a comfortable lead over his Republican challenger.  

“My opponent’s run only a negative campaign, and people don’t like negative campaigns,” Leahy says.

What people do like, Leahy says, are results. And he says he’s delivered them in spades during his seven terms in office.

“Instead of just going on in a negative campaign, saying things I’m against, I can talk about things I’ve done, and I’m for,” Leahy says.

Leahy says his four-decade tenure has earned him a seniority that has brought direct financial benefits for the state.

“People have seen what I’ve done for Vermont, what I’ve been able to do,” Leahy says. “After Hurricane Irene, the fact that I could bring far more money to Vermont than anyone else. They’ve seen me work with farmers, with veterans.”

Milne however says the platform he’s running on would bring the institutional reforms needed to restore order in Congress.

“I think term limits and campaign finance reform will do wonders to not only get our United States Senate back on track, but to get America back on track,” Milne says.

Milne has been especially critical of Leahy’s fund-raising apparatus. The incumbent senator has raised more than $1 million in this cycle alone from political actions committees, many linked to corporate entities.

Though his fellow Vermont senator, Bernie Sanders, has sworn off contributions from corporate PACS, Leahy says he can’t afford to, lest well-resourced conservative forces conspire against him.

“I’m not, in a time of Citizens United … I’m not going to unilaterally disarm,” Leahy says.

Leahy hasn't had a close race in 25 years. Voters will decide whether to buck that trend when they head to the polls on Nov. 8.

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