Vermont’s three-term U.S. Senator “Jumping Jim” Jeffords – whose defection from the Republican Party in 2001 gave the Senate to the Democrats – has announced his intention to retire, despite his having raised more than $2 million to run again.

And even most of the strongest critics of his defection are, along with me, expressing compassion rather than critique. For a primary reason why he is retiring is his wife’s battle with cancer.

Sen. Jeffords’ surprise announcement immediately focused attention on that former governor of Vermont who, in running for the presidency, became internationally famed (although in some quarters, notorious).

But Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean’s spokesman, Karen Finney, told the New York Times:

“Unequivocally, Gov. Dean will not run for the Senate. He’s committed to his job here at the D.N.C. rebuilding the Democratic Party. (emphasis added)

Which, of course, raises a big question about Gov. Dean’s alleged recruiting power – in his own Green Mountain State.

Why was Howard Dean, the alleged Recruiter, never able to persuade Sen. Jeffords to join the Democratic Party?

And even more important, why has Gov. Dean failed to convert to the Democratic Party the odds-on-favorite to succeed Sen. Jeffords, Vermont’s inimitable “Bernie”?

Bernie Sanders is Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

He is obliged to campaign throughout the entire state, where he has won re-election seven times – not as either a Democrat or Republican.

Bernie is a socialist, (officially an Independent) born in Brooklyn, N.Y., who came to Vermont in what was called the Hippie Invasion of 1968.

This usually rumpled but appealing candidate was elected mayor of Burlington by 10 votes – after running unsuccessfully for public office statewide four times.

In 1988, Sanders ran for Congress and lost. But in 1990, he reversed that loss and defeated Republican Pete Smith – with the aid of the National Rifle Association, believe it or not.

Bernie’s opposition to gun control helped him win 227 of Vermont’s cities and towns.

He is the only Socialist ever elected to the U.S. House. And he has announced:

The reason why I am a democratic socialist is that I have a real problem with a society in which we live today, in which the richest one percent of the population owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

When he first arrived in Washington, the Democrats balked at accepting this socialist and non-registered Democrat into their caucus. But in 1991, they granted him seniority. He became ranking minority member of a subcommittee over the objections of Baltimore’s Congressman Elijah Cummings, later leader of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Will President Bush – who lost by 20 percentage points in Vermont – try to persuade Vermont’s Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, or Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, to take on Bernie? That question was asked at a White House daily news briefing, where presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan replied: “No, if we make any – if the president has any contacts of that nature, I’ll try to keep you posted.”

“If we make any” surely sounds as if Vermont’s Bernie has already awed the executive branch in our nation’s capital.

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