Candidates for political office have fewer than three days to file petitions to get on the ballot. But the Republicans are still without a candidate they support for governor. And some people are starting to wonder whether the GOP will even field one.
Eric Davis, a retired political science professor from Middlebury College, has been following Vermont elections for more than three decades. And while it’s been more than 50 years since an incumbent governor lost a race in Vermont, Davis says the opposition has always at least tried to apply a little pressure.
“I don’t recall any situation in which a major party did not have a gubernatorial candidate three days before the filing deadline,” Davis says.
And yet that’s exactly where Vermont Republicans find themselves today. Emily Peyton, a perennial independent candidate, is running for governor as a Republican. But the party does not support her. Randy Brock, a former state auditor and the failed GOP gubernatorial candidate from 2012, announced in an email Sunday evening that he won’t seek the state’s top elected office this year.
So that leaves just one mainstream Republican prospect publicly considering a challenge to two-term Democratic incumbent Peter Shumlin.
That person is Scott Milne, owner of the family travel company that bears his last name.
Milne had been courting a Republican primary with Brock, a primary that he said would have helped shine a spotlight on GOP issues, and given the eventual winner some momentum heading into the general election.
Brock on Monday said that may have been true. But the former auditor and state senator said a Republican primary would have also forced two GOP contenders to compete for scarce fundraising resources.
Milne says he’ll decide by Thursday whether he’ll run. He says pressure to carry the party won’t figure into his decision.
“If I opt out, it’s going to be because I don’t think I stand a chance of winning,” Milne said Monday. “And I’m going to feel bad about that. But I don’t feel pressure to stay in when I feel there’s no chance to win.”
David Sunderland, chairman of the Vermont GOP, says he’s confident the party can find someone else to fill the top of the ticket even if Milne decides against a run. He did not offer up any names.
But Sunderland adds he doesn’t anticipate Republican contenders for any of the four other statewide offices held by incumbent Democrats.
And even if Milne does run, according to Davis, his lack of name recognition and bare-bones campaign apparatus make it likely that he'll get 40 percent or less of the vote against Shumlin.
Davis says that means that all the Republican hopes in 2014 rest on House and Senate races. Sunderland says that the party’s focus is indeed on picking up seats in the Legislature, where he says GOP officeholders will be able to affect the most change.
Davis says it’s a high-risk strategy that threatens to undermine the strength of the party as they head into the last election before a legislative biennium in which the fate of Shumlin’s single-payer health care reform will be decided.
“And if they fail in that, if they don’t manage to pick up any seats, or gain just a small handful of seats in the Legislature, they’re going to be in a very sorry position,” Davis says.
Shumlin filed his candidate petition Monday.
House Minority Leader Don Turner says the party’s inability thus far to secure a candidate is troubling. Turner said he hopes to have as many as 95 Republican candidates for the House in 2014 – a sizeable jump from the 74 candidates he fielded in the 2012 cycle. But he said success in those races hinges at least in part on the strength of the candidate at the top of the Republican ticket.
“When you don’t have anybody at the top leading the way, it’s hard to generate that message that people can follow,” Turner said. “The other problem you is when you don’t have someone stepping up to lead the ticket, other people considering smaller races say: ‘Well, why should I do it?’”
Turner said Milne attended a candidate training event last week, and that he’s spoken with the Pomfret resident and owner of Milne Travel about his possible bid.
“I think he’d be a very good candidate,” Turner said. “I think he’d represent the business community in Vermont in a more fiscally conservative manner, so I hope he runs.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is the lone Republican in statewide office, and is running for a third term. Republicans have yet to field any candidates for secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, or attorney general.