Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and his Republican challenger Lawrence Zupan offered Vermonters a stark choice between competing political philosophies Monday when they met for a radio debate.
In a debate that elicited occasional snarky comments from each candidate, Sanders discussed his continued opposition to most of the policies of Republican President Donald Trump while Zupan spoke against big government intrusion into peoples’ lives that he feels stifle innovation and growth.
During the hour-long Vermont Public Radio debate, Sanders, who is seeking election to his third-term in the U.S. Senate while he weighs another presidential bid in 2020, offered his well-known calls for social justice.
“What I have tried to do is take the values of this very great state of ours and stand up for justice, economic justice, environmental justice, racial justice, to try to create an economy which is not dominated by the people on top, that works for everybody,” Sanders said.
But Zupan, the Manchester real estate broker who has experience in international trade, said Sanders was trying to set up a system of “top-down government control.”
“Our system of free enterprise has brought more success in the shortest amount of time by feeding, housing and clothing, with freedom, more people in the history of the world,” Zupan said. “The people of Vermont have been an important part of the backbone of our nation and the principles of independence and self-care and taking care of one’s neighbor.”
Over his nearly 30 years representing Vermont in Congress – he was first elected to the U.S. House in 1990 and moved up to the Senate following the 2006 election – Sanders has been one of Vermont’s most popular politicians. The state’s Democratic Party doesn’t run a candidate against him and he has spent much of this fall’s election season traveling the country stumping on behalf of like-minded candidates in other states.
Zupan came in second at the August primary in his bid for the GOP senate nomination. The party put his name on the ballot after primary winner H. Brooke Paige turned down the nomination .
While the two candidates disagreed on most policy issues, both criticized U.S. trade policy, with Sanders saying the country needs to create systems that are beneficial for American workers.
Zupan also criticized previous presidential administrations, calling them “trade doormats.” He said Trump has let the world know those days are over.
“I’m glad that at last there is somebody sitting in the White House who has rolled up his sleeves and shown the world there is actually a bicep left in America,” Zupan said.
At one point, Zupan criticized Sanders for the number of votes he missed in the Senate. Zupan called it “dereliction of duty.”
Sanders was unapologetic, saying his 2016 campaign helped change the political dialogue in the country by focusing attention on issues such as the need to provide health care to all, raise the minimum wage and dealing with climate change.
“I have always made Vermont my major priority,” Sanders said. “But as I think you know, but forgot to tell people, I ran for president of the United States of America. And when you run for president of the United States of America, you’ve got to get out of Vermont, you’ve got to get out of Washington and you’ve got to run all over the country.”