Bernie Sanders now in the Senate
Sanders handily beat businessman Richard Tarrant in an expensive race to succeed retiring Sen. James Jeffords, an independent.
"The people of Vermont have told America they are sick and tired of right wing extremism!" Sanders told the crowd, which punched red balloons into the air. "This election tonight may be the end of a campaign, but it is the beginning of a grassroots movement across America!"
Sanders and Tarrant clashed on issues related to Vermont jobs, military and intelligence funding and Sanders' long record in the House, most divisively his vote against Amber Alert, the child protection bill that Sanders says he opposed because it contained unconstitutional provisions.
Tarrant, who invested about $7 million of his own money into the race, was unable to make it competitive, facing Sanders' overwhelming popularity and name recognition.
At his victory party, Sanders vowed to fight on behalf of working families, immigrants and against the Iraq War, which he opposed in 2003.
"I believe that destiny has suggested that his small state of Vermont is going to lead America in a very different direction!" Sanders said cheers and applause. "And the day is going to come when people all over America will say, 'Thank you, Vermont.'"
Sanders will join Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy in the upper body of Congress. Democrat Peter Welch will was elected to replace Sanders in the House.
The amount of influence Sanders wields could depend on to which committees he's assigned - where legislation is designed, constructed and given life in the form of a preliminary vote determining whether it will be considered by the full Senate.
Sanders has indicated an interest in serving on the Veterans Affairs Committee, but would likely land on one or two others with a wider role in national policy, said Eric Davis, a political science professor at Middlebury College.
"I think Leahy and Welch and Sanders will have to sit down and talk about committee assignments," Davis said.
It's likely, Davis added, that one of the lawmakers would replace Sen. James Jeffords (I) as the state's environmental champion - just as Jeffords succeeded former Sen. Robert Stafford on the Environment and Public Works Committee more than 15 years ago.
In past elections, Sanders, 65, has enjoyed strong support as the state's only representative, giving him widespread name recognition and an immediate advantage over Tarrant, who spent about $7 million of his personal wealth on television ads and mass mailings, but was unable to make the race competitive.
In 2004, Sanders was reelected to his eighth House term by 67 percent of Vermont voters. The state's southern counties contributed greatly to his success, with Windham County voters contributing 64 percent to his victory, and Bennington County voters providing 58 percent.
The Senate race shattered past spending records, with the two candidates combined spending about $13 million.
Sanders defended his use of campaign contributions from outside Vermont throughout the campaign, saying Tarrant was trying to buy the election with his personal fortune.
Eighty percent of Sanders' individual contributions amounting to $200 or more came from states like New York, Massachusetts and California, amounting to $1.2 million, according to two nonpartisan research groups. Twenty percent of those contributions, or $302,692, came from Vermont.
Tarrant also sought to highlight Sanders' use of special interest money, saying it contradicted Sanders' rhetoric against corporate America.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sanders raised $512,000 from political action committees, amounting to 10 percent of his contributions. Labor groups were the largest contributor.
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