Late Entry To Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Seeks Victory As Write-In Candidate

Jun 14, 2018

His name won’t be on the ballot for the primary, but Essex-Orleans District Sen. John Rodgers says he is a Democratic candidate for governor, thanks to what he calls a “grassroots” write-in candidacy being waged on his behalf.

Rodgers had publicly flirted with a run for governor back in April, after Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed legislation that enacted controversial new restrictions on gun ownership.

However the Glover resident said he decided before the May 31 filing deadline that he wouldn’t be able to commit the time needed to run a statewide campaign.

“I’ve got a huge number of construction projects that I’ve made commitments to get done,” Rodgers said Thursday.

But, Rodgers said, the people that had encouraged him to run in April persisted even after he opted against a candidacy. And when they approached him recently with the prospect of a write-in candidacy, he told them he’d embrace their support.

Rodgers said he had one condition: “I wasn’t going to be the one campaigning.”

“I’m not planning on raising or spending any money. But I told them if they were successful in a grassroots effort and I got the nomination, then I would be all in,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers joins a crowded Democratic primary field that includes James Ehlers, Christine Hallquist, Brenda Siegel and 14-year-old Ethan Sonneborn.

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Waitsfield resident Angelo Napolitano is one of the people behind the write-in effort for Rodgers.

“He stands up for everybody’s rights in the state of Vermont,” Napolitano said of his support for Rodgers. “Here is a gentleman that has stood toe to toe, side by side, with us on the Second Amendment and Article 16. But it’s not only the guns.”

Napolitano said anger among gun-rights advocates over Scott’s stance on gun issues this year may have precipitated the search for an alternative candidate. But he said the people behind the write-in campaign will have to appeal beyond the gun crowd in order to be successful.

“If a candidate focuses just on the guns and not what else is happening … they’re not going to win,” Napolitano said.

More from VPR — Campaign 2018: A Post-Parkland Test Of Vermont's Gun Politics [April 11] 

Rodgers, a Democrat, said a condition of him accepting support from the write-in campaign was that he be running in the Democratic primary. Napolitano, who called himself a “conservative-leaning” centrist, said Rodgers' success hinges on support from Republicans who feel alienated by Scott.

“We’re asking them just this one time to swallow their ego and their pride and pick up a Democratic ballot and write him in,” Napolitano said.

Rodgers said that while he won’t be actively campaigning, he will make time to sit down with prospective supporters to lay out his platform. Rodgers said he does want to be the next governor of Vermont and that he thinks the state needs a new leader in its top elected office.

“I think [the Scott administration] has done poor job working legislators. I think they continuously drop these last-minute bombs that are not well thought out,” Rodgers said. “I don’t like the way they’re operating, and I think I could do a much better job at it than they’re doing.”

Rodgers said it’ll be an uphill climb to win the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate, but he said he does see a path to victory.

“I guess, from what I’ve heard, they have been doing a fair amount of grassroots work,” Rodgers said of the write-in campaign. “So I think that they are doing a pretty good job getting their message out.”