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Democrats Fire Away at Vermont Major General

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In December — two months before Vermont National Guard Maj. Gen. Martha Rainville officially entered the race for the state’s sole House seat — the state Democratic Party sent out a news release hitching her to disgraced former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), indicted vice presidential aide Scooter Libby and indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

The release, titled “Where Does Martha Rainville Stand on National GOP Leadership?” also referred to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who has faced scrutiny over allegations of insider trading.

“This is the political party Martha Rainville has selected for her anticipated campaign to be Vermont’s next United States Representative,” the release said. “Does Martha Rainville honestly believe Vermont and our nation are better served by keeping control in the hands of these reactionary, polarizing Republicans?”

The opening salvo previewed what is likely to be a heavily utilized Democratic line of attack if Rainville, the highest-ranking military official in Vermont, emerges as the Republican nominee in the race to succeed outgoing Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described Socialist who allies himself with Democrats and is running for the Senate.

The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans are deeply unpopular in Vermont, and Democrats hope the guilt-by-association tactic will take the luster off Rainville, a well-respected public figure whose bipartisan appeal has drawn favorable comparisons to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Both parties tried to recruit Rainville into the House race, and national Republicans are giddy at the prospect of winning a seat in the home state of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Rainville’s likely Democratic opponent, state Sen. Peter Welch, who is running unopposed for his party’s nomination, picked up on the theme in a statement welcoming Rainville to the race after her official announcement Monday.

“Vermonters will have an important choice in November: Will they vote to rein in a radical president and provide a check and balance on his radical agenda ... or [will they] vote for more of the same?” Welch said.

Rainville, for her part, has been slow to defend herself. She will remain as the head of the Vermont National Guard until April 1, limiting her ability to campaign. But she disputes Welch’s framing of the choice facing Vermonters.

“The Democratic attempts to tie me to someone I’m not are predictable but inaccurate,” Rainville said in a phone interview, adding that she would not be overly influenced by GOP leaders or “tied to a particular party line.”

Rainville said she would “speak for Vermonters with an independent voice,” and that it was “important that moderate Republicans speak out” when they disagree with their party’s conservatives.

Rainville also shot back at her opponent’s attacks, saying, “What Vermonters don’t want is an extension of the extreme partisanship we’ve seen in Washington.”

Beginning to flesh out policy positions after almost a year of not commenting on politics, Rainville has distanced herself from conservatives in the national party, proclaiming her unqualified support for abortion rights and decrying ethical lapses by Members in the Republican-controlled Congress.

“I’m a Republican, but I also recognize that there is reform needed in Congress,” Rainville said.

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