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Leahy Gears Up To Run For Eighth Term

Wilson Ring
Sen. Patrick Leahy, seen here with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Burlington in March 2015, is running for his eigth term as Senator.

Sen. Patrick Leahy is gearing up to run for another six-year term in the U.S. Senate in 2016. Although no Republican candidate has emerged to challenge Leahy, Republican officials are hopeful that they will find one.

Leahy, now 75, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and has been re-elected six times.

In his last three races, he has always received at least 64 percent of the vote. Carolyn Dwyer, Leahy's campaign manager, says he’s ready for the 2016 campaign.

"Senator Leahy is actively preparing for a re-election campaign in 2016," said Dwyer.

During his long career, when Democrats were in the majority, he has served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee and the Senate committee on Foreign Appropriations.

Leahy enters this race with $2.4 million in the bank, having been actively fundraising for the past few months.

Although no Republican challenger has yet to emerge, Dwyer notes that a number of national Republican Super PACs are already spending millions of dollars against Democratic candidates in several Senate races.

"Unfortunately in the post Citizens United era,” Dwyer says, “Senator Leahy has to be prepared to not only run against his opponent in Vermont, but against anyone who is interested in attacking his reputation and record across the United States." 

Retired Middlebury College political science professor, Eric Davis, notes that Leahy has a fair amount of money in the bank and enjoys very high favorability ratings with his constituents.

"Sen. Leahy has to be prepared to not only run against his opponent in Vermont, but against anyone who is interested in attacking his reputation and record across the United States." - Carolyn Dwyer, Sen. Leahy's campaign manager

"Those are the sort of advantages that long-time incumbents, regardless of party, have all over the country in Senate races,” Davis explains. “It's very, very difficult to defeat a long-term incumbent in a state that tends to vote for candidates of his or her party."

Davis thinks it's unlikely that a national Republican Super PAC will invest millions of dollars to attack Leahy's record, unless the dynamics of this race change dramatically in the coming months.

"What they're going to be doing is focusing on states where there's an incumbent who might be in difficulty,” says Davis. “Or open seats that could go either way ... and those are the states in which Super PACs will put in seven figure sums of money."

But will Republicans field a strong candidate in the 2016 Senate race? Party Chairman David Sunderland is optimistic, but he's not naming any likely challengers yet.

"I think there's an opportunity there and I think there's interest and how it all plays out, I think only time will tell,” Sunderland says.

Sunderland says the 2016 races for governor and lieutenant governor are top priorities for the Vermont Republican Party, as well as efforts to add seats in both the Vermont House and Senate.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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