Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman is trying to paint his opponent, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, as being too cozy with Democrats.
For weeks, Lisman has been describing Scott as an ineffective leader of the Republican Party. Scott served six terms in the state senate and has been elected to three terms as lieutenant governor. Over the past six years, he's also been a member of Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin's cabinet.
The match that started the recent firestorm between Lisman and Scott is a direct mail piece that features a photo of Scott with Shumlin at the Statehouse with the heading: "Peter Shumlin and Phil Scott have taken Vermont in the wrong direction."
Lisman says the piece is a fair representation of how Scott has supported many of the priorities of the Shumlin Administration.
"We had a governor with a lot of bad ideas and the people have responded by saying we don't like those ideas, we don't like the direction," Lisman says. "The very basic point is the lieutenant governor was there at his side in the cabinet meetings. There's a moment when you're supposed to say, 'No! I don't care about a cabinet post. Who cares?' No. This is a bad idea and I don't need to be a part of that process."
And Lisman says that Scott's lack of leadership at the Statehouse has hurt the Republican Party.
"It puts a lot of pressure on a small caucus Republicans in both the House and Senate," says Lisman. "It would have been great to have had his outspoken support for alternative ideas."
Scott says Lisman's criticisms are completely untrue. He says the mailer represents the kind of overly partisan approach that has led to a highly dysfunctional Congress in Washington, D.C.
"I think that it seemed like a D.C.-style tactic to me and I think Vermonters expect better," Scott says. "It's not something how I conduct myself. While I wasn't surprised, I was disappointed that he would resort to these methods."
Scott notes he's been a long time critic of Vermont Health Connect — the state's problem-plagued health insurance website. And he says that he's offered alternative health care proposals.
Scott says it's possible to be critical of the Democratic administration without resorting to personal attacks.
"There are many that advocate that you should run your opponent down in order for you to look better," Scott says. "And I've always said in my years of being a public servant that you talk about what you can do and actually advocate for that position, rather than what your opponent can't."
Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis thinks Lisman is targeting a small number of Republicans who think that Phil Scott has been far too moderate on many issues. Davis thinks this base of support is too narrow for Lisman to win the primary.
"I think if he wants to make the primary competitive his best hope is to expand the electorate," Davis says, "To appeal to independents who might not have voted in Republican primaries in the past but may not be particularly enthusiastic about any of the Democrats candidates."
Davis notes that almost every Republican member of the House and the Senate has endorsed Scott. He says they view him as the strongest candidate in the November election following the model of former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas.
"For a Republican to win in Vermont in a presidential election, the Republican candidate has to get a lot of the votes of people who are going to vote for the Democratic candidate for President, for U.S. Senate and other offices," Davis says. "And elected Republicans, a great number of them believe that Phil Scott can do the same in 2016."
Davis says he doubts that Presidential politics will sway many Republican voters in the gubernatorial primary election.
Scott has been very critical of the party's expected nominee Donald Trump and he says he won't vote for him. Lisman says he's not sure if he's going to support Trump.
Disclosure: The photo in the Lisman mailer described in this piece was taken by VPR's Angela Evancie in January 2015. The photo was used by the Lisman campaign without VPR's permission on the campaign's website and in the direct mailer. VPR requested that the Lisman campaign remove the photo from its website, which it has done.