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Jeffords to Fundraise in Boston

Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) will help raise money for Democrats next week at the party’s national convention — the latest fundraising endeavor for the former Republican who now caucuses with Democrats.

So far this year, Jeffords has penned fundraising letters on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and attended a major Democratic fundraiser. The Vermont Independent said he would soon hit the campaign trail on behalf of several Democratic candidates engaged in battles for open seats.

At the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Jeffords is scheduled to attend a DSCC fundraiser, just hours before Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) accepts the Democratic vice presidential nomination one week from today.

“I am going to look where there is a chance to win seats, primarily,” Jeffords said Tuesday. “I am not running against incumbents, but where we have chances of taking an open seat, primarily I am going to be working there.”

Three years after he renounced his Republican Party affiliation, Jeffords continues to retain something approaching a cult-like status with the Democratic base. His dramatic, mid-Congress switch in June 2001 thrust Democrats into the majority and relegated his ex-Republican colleagues to the minority for the first time since seizing the gavels during the GOP’s midterm rout in 1994.

Jeffords quit the GOP because he claimed President Bush had veered too far to the right on several domestic issues, including abortion, the environment and tax cuts. The final straw for Jeffords came when the White House refused to fully fund a special education program that he had long championed and did not invite him to attend a White House ceremony honoring a Vermont woman who was being recognized as teacher of the year.

Jeffords has said he’s never regretted his decision, and he acknowledged in the interview that he was delighted to be part of Michael Moore’s movie “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which takes a witheringly critical look at the Bush presidency.

“I couldn’t be more happy,” Jeffords said. “My happiness was reassured with ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ It starts off with me and it goes on to say losing the power in the Senate was the most serious problem the president has had.

“So I said, ‘Good,’” Jeffords added.

For the most part, Jeffords’ former colleagues in the Republican Conference have come to accept his decision to quit the party, even though it stripped them of power to set the chamber’s legislative agenda.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he maintains a good working relationship with Jeffords, the panel’s ranking member, despite the Vermont Independent’s decision to raise money for Democrats.

“People don’t understand this: You can be diametrically opposed on just about everything, but if you have a friendship, you have a friendship,” Inhofe said. “I understand he is out raising money for the liberals, and I am out raising money for the conservatives.”

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), perhaps the most liberal Senator who remains in the GOP fold, said he believes Jeffords’ decision not to campaign against GOP incumbents has helped heal the personal wounds that followed his defection.

“I think that helps a lot with any resentment,” Chafee said.

Still, some anger appears to be lingering, especially among GOP Senators who were most directly affected by Jeffords’ decision.

“I don’t think there is bitterness,” said a smirking Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.), who was Majority Leader when Jeffords quit the party. “It is more like sympathy.”

For now, the DSCC fundraiser is the only event Jeffords is scheduled to attend in Boston next week, but the Vermont Senator said he would agree to participate in others if asked to by the Democratic leadership.

“I am anxious to win this election for the Independents,” Jeffords said.

But National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) said Jeffords is anything but an Independent.

“He is a Democrat,” said Allen, who is charged with helping to elect Republicans to the Senate. “He sides with the Democrats when it comes to cutting taxes for families. He is against us when it comes to supporting our troops. He is against us when it comes to fair consideration of judges. He won’t allow it.”

Allen said he hopes the Democratic leadership decides to deploy Jeffords to the South, where Democrats must defend open seats in the conservative leaning states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana as well other competitive contests in Alaska, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

“I think it would be great to have him come to those states,” Allen said. “I am sure he will be liked in Vermont and Massachusetts, but those aren’t key battleground states.”

But Sen. Jon Corzine (N.J.), chairman of the DSCC, dismissed Allen’s assessment, saying he “plans on using [Jeffords] a lot.”

“I think any place that has an environmental bent, Jim is strong,” said Corzine, who as DSCC chairman oversees campaign efforts for Democratic Senators. While Corzine would not reveal how the DSCC plans to utilize Jeffords, he said the Vermont Independent would be able to help Democrats in states where education and environmental issues are top priorities for voters.

Even though Jeffords said he wants to see Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) defeat Bush in November, he added that he is going to limit his campaign activities to Senate candidates.

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