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Gay Senate candidate an underdog amid Vermont gay union backlash

BURLINGTON, Vermont (CNN) -- Ed Flanagan's campaign for U.S. Senate is a bit like tilting at windmills in a political year when who he is matters every bit as much as what he stands for.

Flanagan
Ed Flanagan  

Flanagan, Vermont's state auditor, is the only openly gay candidate for a statewide office in the United States this year. His sexual orientation was not an issue when he ran for state auditor five years ago, but it is an issue this year because of civil unions -- the procedure Vermont's Supreme Court and Legislature approved giving gay couples most of the same rights as married heterosexual couples.

"It's an issue in every race in Vermont," said Flanagan, a Democrat. "This is about equality, and fairness, and nothing more."

It is also about running a race against a popular incumbent, Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords, who supports civil unions -- or at least doesn't oppose them.

"I support the Supreme Court and their interpretation of it," Jeffords said. "And that's the end of the issue, as far as I'm concerned."

It is an approach that seems to have avoided getting hardly anyone among Vermont voters mad in a state that has never seen such a bitter political season.

Jeffords
Sen. Jim Jeffords  

Since Vermont's Supreme Court and Legislature allowed them last summer, there have been more gay civil unions in Vermont than traditional marriages. But that has sparked an opposition movement, dubbed "Take Back Vermont," which is shadowing all of Vermont politics.

"Running against Jim Jeffords is a recipe for disaster," University of Vermont analyst Garrison Nelson said. "I mean, Jeffords is very popular -- he's kind of the Jimmy Stewart of Vermont politics."

Flanagan, with the same basic position of support for civil unions, seems more like the Rodney Dangerfield of Vermont politics:.

"I have become a bit of a lightning rod," he said. "It's raised with me on the street, as I travel around, and campaigning."

"There is strong support," he added. "There is also, for the first time some very negative and sometimes very hostile reaction about my lifestyle, and my personal life that had never happened before."

The son of an Irish immigrant father, he points out his symbol -- the bulldog -- to show he can handle being the underdog.

"I think it's our obligation to speak candidly and forthrightly about what's going on," he said.

 



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Thursday, November 2, 2000


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