By Jasper Craven/VTDigger
Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin defends Hillary Clinton’s record Thursday in Keene, N.H.
By Jasper Craven, VTDigger.org
Hillary Clinton placed a secret weapon in the audience for the last Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary: a former Vermont governor.
Thursday evening, Howard Dean sat attentively in the audience at the MSNBC debate. Midway through the tense two-hour discussion between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Dean perfectly enabled a potent Clinton jab.
It came after Sanders defended his credentials as a Democrat and said he wanted to implement a “50-state strategy so the Democratic Party is not just the party of 25 states.”
Clinton saw an opportunity and dealt a blow.
“You know,” she said, “the person who first put out the idea of a 50-state party strategy is former Gov. Howard Dean, who is with us tonight.”
The crowd clapped as Clinton gestured to the former Democratic presidential contender.
“And I’m very proud and grateful to have the support of so many elected Vermonters and former officials,” she continued. “Two former governors, the current governor, the current other senator. I really appreciate that.”
It wasn’t over.
“And I think it’s because they’ve worked with me, they’ve seen what I do. They know what kind of a colleague I am. They want me as their partner in the White House. And that’s exactly what I will do.”
In a race where Clinton holds a huge endorsement advantage over Sanders, the sheer number of Vermont politicians she has picked up demands notice.
They include Gov. Peter Shumlin and former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, as well as U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. Even Miro Weinberger, the current mayor of Sanders’ “People’s Republic” of Burlington, has thrown his support behind Clinton.
After Clinton’s remarks about her many Vermont fans, Sanders conceded — that point, at least.
“She has the entire establishment, or almost the entire establishment, behind her,” Sanders said. “That’s a fact. I don’t deny it.”
Besides Dean’s support at the debate, Shumlin and Kunin crossed the Connecticut River on Thursday morning, Feb. 4, in hopes of blunting the momentum of Sanders, who holds a large lead in most Granite State polls.
Tristram Coffin, a former U.S. attorney in Vermont appointed by President Barack Obama, also stumped for Clinton.
Dean was scheduled to join the crew on the three-stop tour — which started in Keene and ended in Lebanon — but didn’t go along.
At a small Clinton field office in Keene, decorated with homemade signs and a table with fresh baked goodies, the governors snapped photos with volunteers and told them to keep up the fight.
Shumlin and Kunin each spoke at length to the couple of dozen Clinton fans in the room about why they, as Vermonters, had skipped over Sanders to endorse an outsider.
“It is a great honor to be here in eastern Vermont,” Shumlin joked in his opening statement. “I know what you are all up against — we have got a favorite son on the ballot, and we understand the challenges there.”
Shumlin praised Clinton’s time as secretary of state, saying she would “hit the ground running in an extraordinarily dangerous world to keep us safe.”
The Vermont governor also spoke about Clinton’s willingness to listen, cooperate and learn.
“I love Bernie. I’ll never say a negative word about him,” Shumlin said. “I can tell you that president of the United States is the toughest job in the world, and you better hire someone who is really ready, able and capable of doing that job.”
Shumlin praised Clinton’s plan to curb opiate addiction, an issue that has just recently supplanted jobs and the economy for Granite Staters as the most important problem plaguing the state.
Clinton has reached out to Shumlin directly for on-the-ground information about how best to fight the problem, and the two appeared at an opiate roundtable in Laconia last year.
Clinton has released a comprehensive plan to battle addiction, a $10 billion proposal focused on treatment, criminal justice reform and reining in big pharmaceutical companies. The plan has contours of Vermont’s approach to the crisis, and Shumlin fully endorsed it Thursday.
“Hillary Clinton has the best plan to deal with opiate addiction of any candidate running for president because she talked to a lot of people who were out there fighting the battle, and came with a really pragmatic, practical, compassionate plan,” he said.
Sanders showed understanding of the issue at a recent CNN town hall forum in Derry, pointing out that Vermont’s governor gave his State of the State speech a year ago on the issue.
But Sanders has not released a plan explaining how he would solve the crisis, instead tying it to his Medicare-for-all proposal.
“When people need treatment they shouldn’t have to wait three months,” he said at the town hall forum. “When they need it, they should be able to get it. So that means we need a revolution in this country in mental health care to address the causes of addiction and provide treatment.”
Kunin, Vermont’s first and only female governor, boasted about beating Sanders in the 1986 gubernatorial election by a wide margin. Her remarks focused on the unique and important perspective a woman brings to office, calling Clinton “a good activist in the system.”
Kunin cast Sanders as an outsider in Vermont’s Democratic Party, who once referred to Democrats and Republicans as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”
She said Clinton would aggressively push for women’s issues, including comprehensive child care, paid family medical leave and pay equity.
“From the Republican point of view, she would be called the ‘revolutionary,’” Kunin said, further expanding on these ideas in a Friday opinion piece in The Boston Globe.
Though Sanders had no Vermonters on the trail Thursday, he held a rally in Rochester with New Hampshire Rep. Jackie Cilley, a progressive Democrat who gave a full-throated endorsement of Sanders in the town’s opera house.
“The biggest advances throughout history have only come from the dreamers and unreasonable people,” Cilley said.
The New Hampshire politician, who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for the gubernatorial nomination in 2012, distilled Sanders’ message effectively and powerfully, drawing huge applause after calling for political innovation and revolution.
“Those who say it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt those who are doing it,” Cilley said.
Cilley stumped for Obama in 2008, and Sanders praised her words of support.
“I don’t know what to say after Jackie’s remarks,” Sanders said. “She said it all.”
Obviously she hadn’t said it all, and Sanders then deeply dug into Clinton in Rochester with a scathing critique of what he characterized as the former secretary of state’s flip-flops on issues including marriage equality and the Iraq War.
“It is easy to apologize for a bad vote 15 or 20 years later after the tide has changed,” he said. “It is a lot harder to stand up, even though you are outnumbered, and cast the right vote.”
Sanders has seemed relaxed on the Granite State trail, a likely outcome of sunny poll numbers and geographic familiarity. His son, Levi, also lives in New Hampshire and joined his dad on the trail Thursday.
And while the Vermonters out on the road Thursday for Clinton certainly didn’t help the optics of the Sanders campaign, the Vermont senator summoned his own Green Mountain celebrities on the trail Friday: ice cream icons Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.