Parke targets Sanders, then pulls the ad
MONTPELIER — Congressional challenger Greg Parke on Friday pulled his radio commercial that portrayed Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., as being cozy with pornographers, pedophiles and terrorists.
The commercial, which aired for less than a day, quickly drew criticism from top Vermont Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and state GOP Chairman James Barnett.
Here is the text of the ad, which followed the format of a vintage television show:
"Welcome to The Dating Game.
"Today's contestant: liberal socialist Bernie Sanders.
"Crazy Bernie is a holdover from the Woodstock days of reefer and flowers.
"His heroes are Karl Marx and Barbra Streisand.
"Bernie loves long walks on the beach with child pornographers and pedophiles, candlelight dinners with illegal aliens and cozy evenings by the fire with al-Qaida terrorists.
"In Congress Bernie repeatedly voted to weaken punishment for child pornographers and pedophiles. He voted for amnesty for illegal aliens and won't close the borders to terrorists.
"He brags about voting to gut spending for the military and the CIA. Bernie's uncomfortable with veterans, children, parents and the elderly.
"He voted against Amber Alert, against billions in funding for vets and against parental consent laws for children seeking abortions.
"He voted to raise taxes on Social Security. But if you are an illegal alien pedophile terrorist who performs partial-birth abortions on 12-year-old girls without their parents' consent, then you and crazy Bernie are a match made in heaven."
The ad takes aim at several Sanders votes, including his opposition to a measure to expand the Amber Alert network to publicize missing children through electronic road signs and television and radio broadcasts.
Sanders, one of 25 House members who opposed the measure when it passed last year, said its mandatory minimum sentences for people who commit crimes against minors would severely restrict the discretion of judges. A similar concern was raised by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Sanders' spokesman Jeff Weaver said that "in his (Parke's) desperation, he is now resorting to outrageous lies and personal attacks."
Dubie said, "We don't need that type of campaigning here in Vermont."
Republican Chairman James Barnett said, "There is plenty in Bernie's record to criticize, including these votes, but I think Greg received some bad advice on how to portray these votes and I'm glad he's pulling the ad."
Parke said he was not yanking the ad in response to the criticism, but allowing greater exposure for his other ads. He defended the ad, saying: "What is over the line is Sanders' record."
The ad was an attempt by Parke to gain traction against Sanders who — despite his reputation in Washington as a maverick and lone ranger — has a large following at home and is regularly re-elected by large margins. In 2002, he defeated Rutland lawyer William Meub 64 percent to 32 percent.
Larry Drown, who lost two statewide elections as a Republican, is the Democratic nominee but has not campaigned actively. Jane Newton is the Progressive nominee.
Sanders has used his populist positions on issues such as health care and economic policy, coupled with strong support for veterans issues, to assemble broad coalitions of voters throughout his political career.
"People are working very hard to keep their heads above water," Sanders said. "People are struggling because many of the jobs that exist don't pay as well as people need to live middle-class existence. I am fighting for them."
Parke, a retired military aviator who now works as a charter pilot, says Sanders' views actually hurt the middle class and that the lawmaker is an ineffective advocate for his causes.
"He cultivates the worst in human nature: envy, greed, jealousy and class warfare," Parke said. "It's in his interest for the majority of Americans to be dependent on government largesse."
Sanders, a 63-year-old New York City native, has been in Congress since 1991. Before that, he was mayor of Burlington for eight years. He serves on the House Financial Services and Government Reform committees.
He has been one of the leaders of the effort to allow the importation of lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada. He has been active in efforts to remove the provisions of the USA Patriot Act that allow the government to force libraries and bookstores to turn over borrowing and purchasing records.
Sanders has also been a leading opponent of trade agreements that he argues have escalated the shipment of American jobs overseas.
"Unfettered free trade is not a good thing," he said. "We've made real progress on this issue and have enlisted allies on both sides of the aisle on this."
Parke, a 50-year-old Boston native who grew up in Vermont and served in the Air Force for 22 years, said that on balance foreign trade has been helpful for Vermont and the rest of the nation.
"Many of the jobs created by foreign companies here pay more than other jobs," he said. "There are always going to be job changes because of trade. The role of government is to foster an economic climate that encourages the creation of good-paying jobs."
The candidates also disagree about foreign policy, with Parke frequently criticizing Sanders' opposition to the war in Iraq and his support for reductions in the Pentagon and intelligence budgets.
"He has an unending hostility to the military and is soft on terrorism," Parke said. "He supports the veterans, but votes against the interest of those who serve in the military."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former navy pilot and POW, issued a statement this week endorsing Parke's candidacy, but did not criticize the incumbent congressman.
Sanders said his voting record indicates he is a strong supporter of efforts to fight terrorism and that he has voted to cut spending on intelligence after reports of millions of dollars of wasteful expenditures in those programs.
In addition to having different views on most issues, the candidates have contrasting approaches to meeting voters.
Parke, who is relatively unknown despite his unsuccessful race for the GOP congressional nomination in 2002, has been going to parades, festivals, and candidate forums as well as doing media appearances.
Sanders has used the advantages of incumbency and attended official events such as Friday's presentation of Purple Hearts to three members of the Vermont National Guard who were injured in Iraq.
His campaign events have centered on rallies and town hall meetings that have featured issue discussions, musical entertainment and dinner. One such event is scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m. at Montpelier High School.
Regardless of the outcome Tuesday, Sanders said he would run for the Senate in 2006 if Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., declines to seek re-election.
Middlebury College political scientist Eric Davis said Sanders' prospects in that race depend in large part on whether there is a serious Democratic candidate — such as former Gov. Howard Dean — who would split the support of liberal voters.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said the outcome of that race would depend on whether voters can envision Sanders in the Senate.
"You've only got two Senators out of 100," Sabato said. "Voters may be a bit more careful than they are about whom they send to the House where he is only one of 435. But this is Vermont and I don't know if they know what careful means, and I say that affectionately."
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