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Maverick remains popular at home

Senator Jim Jeffords  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pick a partisan hot-button issue of the past few years -- campaign finance, tax cuts and the impeachment of former President Clinton all come to mind -- and you are likely to find the GOP congressional leadership on one side and Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords on the other.

Jeffords, 67, has been part of a small band of GOP moderates -- mostly from New England -- who have grown in importance in recent years as Republicans kept a slim majority in the Senate. When the group opposed the GOP positions, the party leadership had little choice but to compromise or lose.

Jeffords' adamant refusal to back President Bush's budget outline earlier this year, with its $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal, was more than some in the GOP could take. With a Republican back in the White House and a Bush victory richly desired, Jeffords' position on the Senate Finance Committee -- which writes tax legislation -- caused his opinion to carry special weight.

He was frank about his opposition.

"I think it's not oriented as well is it could be for those who need it, especially the low-income people needing health insurance and others who need funds just to live, so I think it's oriented the wrong way and I think it's a little bit too big," he told CNN in February.

In the end, without Jeffords and other moderates, Congress settled on a budget plan that included the outline for a smaller tax cut.

Jeffords' political career has been one of moderation and pragmatism. Born May 11, 1934, he was the son of a former chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court. A U.S. Navy veteran, Jeffords received his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his law degree from Harvard.

After two years as a state senator, Jeffords was elected Vermont Attorney General in 1969, served one term, and then was elected as Vermont's sole U.S. House member in 1975. He served in the post until 1988, when he was elected to the Senate. He is serving his third term after being re-elected last fall.

Jeffords, whose Vermont family heritage can be traced back to the 1790s, remains strong and popular in his home state. He crushed his Democratic opponent, state Auditor Ed Flanagan, last November.

"Running against Jim Jeffords is a recipe for disaster," University of Vermont analyst Garrison Nelson told CNN last November. "I mean, Jeffords is very popular -- he's kind of the Jimmy Stewart of Vermont politics."

Jeffords has risked GOP wrath in the past. Jeffords was one of only five Senate Republicans to vote in 1999 against both of the articles of impeachment against Clinton. He has consistently supported an overhaul of the nation's campaign finance system over the wishes of Republican leaders and Bush and openly criticized the 1994 "Contract with America" that Republicans believe gave them control of the House. His tax cut position created a new round of party grumbling and raised the possibility he would face serious political retribution.

Shortly after the November elections, when it became clear the GOP moderates might hold the key to the Senate successes of the incoming president, Jeffords was asked by The Associated Press about the pressures he and other moderates might face.

"We understand the responsibility we have in that position," he said.

Republican National Committee (GOP)
Democratic National Committee

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