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Democrats for U.S. Senate

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Burlington, Vermont - August 13, 2010

Of all the contests on this year's primary ballot, no race better exemplifies a David versus Goliath than Dan Freilich versus Patrick Leahy.

Leahy was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974 at the age of 34. Not only was he the youngest person to be elected to the U.S. Senate in Vermont's history, he was also the first Democrat. Thirty-six years and seven primary elections later, only one other U.S. senator outranks him.

"It takes a lot of seniority; it takes the right committee... I think I've learned a lot more," Leahy said. "If I ever feel I'm not learning in the job then I don't want the job."

Dan Freilich has never run for state office. The 47-year-old physician and U.S. Navy captain lacks the name recognition and campaign war chest that Leahy has. And he says that's partly why he's running, arguing political climate in Washington favors the privileged, where lawmakers like Leahy are bought, sold, and swayed by special interest groups.

"I think it's unethical. It's immoral, and it's dishonorable," Freilich said.

"I have only one special interest group and that's the people of Vermont," Leahy said.

When it comes to the issues, there are some differences between the two candidates. Both support a single-payer health care system. But Freilich is critical of Leahy for voting for the health care bill, arguing it does little to improve the system.

"It's a difference of extent. I think we have to fix this now. He's willing to fix it over decades," Freilich said.

"The health care bill was an enormous start," Leahy said. "I cannot understand these people who say they would have voted against the health care bill because we'll wait for something better. Well, we've heard that argument literally all my lifetime."

Freilich is also critical of Leahy's wavering support for the war in Afghanistan. Both believe the Iraq war was a mistake and Leahy has expressed some reservations about the status of the war in Afghanistan.

"And I think it is actually very counterproductive that Senator Leahy right now in the middle of the surge is questioning it. I think it strengthens the enemy, emboldens the enemy, and demoralizes our troops," Freilich said.

"Our troops are doing an unbelievable job," Leahy said. "I just wish the Afghan troops would do nearly as good of a job."

The two candidates do see eye to eye on some issues. Both back reforms to help Vermont dairy farmers, including a proposal to cap milk production on dairy farms to better control supply and demand.

"I don't like it," Freilich said. "I don't think most farmers like it, but it seems to work in many places where it's been tried."

And on energy both candidates support development of wind, solar, hydro, and other forms of renewable energy. Freilich strongly opposes nuclear energy and the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. Leahy wouldn't weigh in on the Yankee debate-- saying it's a state issue-- but he does say he has reservations about nuclear power.

"Who wants to answer the question what do you do with the waste? Until you answer that you're not going to get support for nuclear," Leahy said.

Just a few of the similarities and differences between the candidates with the primary now less than two weeks away. The winner of that August primary will take on Republican Len Britton in November.

Keagan Harsha - WCAX News

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