Vermont: Republican Candidates Needed

Friday, 13 Jun 2014 11:50 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Vermont Republican Party has a problem — as of Thursday's filing deadline for the upcoming primaries, there was only a handful of strong declared candidates it could support for election.

The party posted a plea for candidates on its website, The New York Times reported,  as no Republicans have entered races for attorney general, auditor secretary of state, and treasurer.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is running for re-election and there are candidates for Vermont's at-large congressional seat. Two Republicans, Scott Milne, a travel agency president, and Steve Berry jumped into the race for governor for at the last minute.
Milne appears to be favored in the race. Yet another candidate, Emily Peyton, has run twice as an independent and is now running as a Republican, but the party is not supporting her, the Times reported.

"I feel like there’s an opportunity to win. I wouldn’t bet on it," said Milne, 55. "We’ll run a good campaign."

Even by New England's chiefly Democratic background, Vermont's lack of Republican candidates is unique. There are Republicans in each statewide race in Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island, two Republicans are seeking the nomination for the governor's seat.

"The Republican Party, at this point in Vermont history, is pretty much on fumes," Garrison Nelson, a professor of political science at the University of Vermont, told The Times. "It’s the least relevant it has been in the close to 50 years I’ve been in the state."

In years past, Republicans held power in Vermont, where state voters were in favor of Republican candidates in 27 consecutive elections from 1856 to 1960, which is the longest winning streak in American history, according to the University of Minnesota's "Smart Politics" blog. In addition, Republicans held Vermont's governor's office from 1855 through 1963.

But Democrats began targeting the state, and the Republican Party did not keep up its base from 1991 on, said Nelson, and has not been able to challenge Gov. Peter Shumlin, a liberal Democrat elected in 2010 and now seeking his third two-year term.

"We have superminority status in the Statehouse and the State Senate; we have one statewide elected official," state Republican Party Chairman David Sunderland told the Times.

Scott is the party's most prominent state member, and says he feels Republicans "have probably bottomed out. I’m sure it’ll never return to what it once was, but that’s OK."

Meanwhile, he'd like to bring the Republican Party back to its roots in his state.

"Vermont Republicans are a different breed than nationally, admittedly," Scott said.

He has not challenged Shumlin, who holds a strong following and is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. However, Scott has not ruled out running for the higher office after Shumlin leaves.

State House Minority Leader Donald Turner said the party is trying to hold onto its 45 of 150 seats in the house, even though six lawmakers have retired.

"It took a long time to get where we are; it’s going to take time to get back to where we have more relevance and we have more people," said Turner.

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