On Saturday, Republican Scott Milne will formally launch his campaign for the U.S. Senate. It’s an awfully late start for a candidate who’s looking to unseat a popular seven-term incumbent in Patrick Leahy. But Milne says his low-budget, old-school approach to campaigning is exactly what voters are looking for.
On Thursday, Milne took that campaign to an unusual spot. The sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the Washington Village School rearranged the furniture in their classroom to accommodate their guest speaker for the morning.
“Let’s move the tables back,” teacher Genevra Lavigne instructed them. “And remember please to pick them up so they don’t make that hideous noise on the floor.”
These kids can’t vote of course. But Milne, taking his seat in front of the students, tried to make it a productive campaign stop all the same.
“I’d like to be able to answer any questions I can to help you go home and try to convince your parents or grandparents and all your friend and relatives that Washington will be better off with different leadership,” Milne said.
The classrooms here are familiar territory for Milne, who grew up in Washington, Vermont and attended this very same school 50 years ago. If he was hoping for softballs from the young crowd, some of them the kids of his former classmates, they were not willing to play along. David Poulin wanted to know, “what will you do to prevent climate change?”
Cameron Morway asked “what could you do to improve our economy?”
From Emily Poulin: “Do you support the legalization of marijuana?”
And Emily Hunt wondered: “So how come your website doesn’t have any information on it?”
Save for a rogue question on the dangers of Pokemon Go, the students here peppered the 57-year-old Republican candidate with all manner of policy questions. And Milne’s answers to most of them tended to drift back to the same theme – in order to make Congress start working for citizens again, Leahy, and other “career politicians” like him, need to go.
“The United States Senate is recklessly putting their own careers and their own special interests ahead of what’s important for you and your children,” Milne said.
Milne calls Leahy the “poster child” for the ills of special-interest money in D.C. politics. Milne registered as a candidate in June, and much of his rhetoric since then has focused on the corporate money that has helped the seven-term incumbent amass a $3 million campaign war chest.
Milne, by comparison, had about $20,000 in his campaign bank account as of the most recent federal disclosure deadline.
“I believe I’m offering Vermont the opportunity to elect somebody that isn’t taking money from special interests, and is not going to be owing anything to special interests,” Milne said.
Milne also said he’ll bring a centrist calm to the partisan bickering that has led to gridlock in Congress.
“What’s happened to the Senate over the last 50 years is those 15 people in the middle that kind of went either way to get things done are virtually extinct,” Milne said.
If a recent VPR poll is any indication, then Milne has a lot of convincing to do with voters. The survey of 637 Vermonters, conducted in July, found that 62 percent planned to vote for Leahy, compared to 23 percent for Milne.
Milne isn’t giving himself a lot of time to close that gap.
“So from Saturday from when we launch our campaign to the election is 59 days,” Milne told the students. “We’re going to compact a lot of the emphasis, and try to run an efficient campaign.”
Milne’s campaign launch will be in Washington, a little more than a stone’s throw away from the school he visited Thursday. Among the scheduled speakers is Milne’s highest-profile supporter, former Gov. James Douglas. Douglas says he thinks voters are ready for new political leaders.
“That’s why Mr. Trump is competitive at the national level,” Douglas said in a telephone interview Thursday. “Folks feel that people who have been insiders for a long time just haven’t gotten the job done.”
Douglas says if people aren’t happy with Congress – and the institution’s woefully low approval ratings nationally suggest that’s the case – then they need to begin changing the people they send there.
“They have to understand that it’s the sum of the parts that is not getting what we need done as a nation,” Douglas says. “There’s an old saying that if you keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, that’s the definition of insanity, and I think it’s a point in our nation’s history where folks are looking for something new.”
Milne has far surpassed expectations before, and nearly pulled off a stunning upset of Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2014.
Milne, who, incidentally, does not support the legalization of marijuana, says his stance on some issues will put him at odds with national Republicans. He told students that he thinks Congress should expand background checks for firearms, for example, and consider banning certain weapons. He also says he wants to improve upon the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it, as many Republicans have called for.
Milne’s formal launch is at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Washington Town Hall.
Leahy’s campaign said in a statement that he welcomes Milne to the race, and looks forward to a quote “positive, issues-oriented campaign.”
Correction 8:46 a.m. 9/12/16 to correct the Milne campaign's cash-on-hand as of the last disclosure deadline.