Not sure what the deal is with the upcoming Vermont elections?
To begin with, it’s not a presidential year. Neither of Vermont’s U.S. senators, Patrick Leahy or Bernie Sanders, are up for reelection. And most of Vermont’s incumbent statewide officeholders aren’t facing serious challenges. But Vermonters will have the opportunity to cast decisive votes in plenty of important races this fall, including what promise to be some hard-fought local contests for the House and Senate.
On the last election cycle before Vermont enters a legislative biennium that could feature some watershed decisions on single-payer health care and education funding reform, the names on Vermont’s roster of officeholders have never been so important. And while the Vermont Democratic Party will look to use its organizational and financial might to maintain its firm grip over the executive and legislative branches, Republicans and Progressives say opportunities for gains abound.
Incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin heads the top of the ticket for Democrats, and at this stage of the race looks to have a massive advantage over his best-known Republican challenger, Scott Milne. In addition to all the powers of incumbency, Shumlin boasted a nearly $1.1 million campaign war chest as of the last finance filings in July. Milne is a political neophyte whose only electoral experience came in an unsuccessful House race in 2006. And even he says his “understaffed and underfunded” campaign faces long odds. But Milne, owner of Milne Travel, says Vermonters are hungry for change.
The race for lieutenant governor is shaping up to be the year’s most exciting. Popular incumbent Republican Phil Scott is his party’s lone statewide officeholder, and his comfortable win in 2012 was pretty much the only moment of triumph for Republicans in the last cycle. But thanks to an aggressive grassroots fundraising push in May and June, Progressive Dean Corren has qualified for public financing and will get $200,000 for his campaign. It’s a substantial sum that eclipses Scott’s haul for either of that last two elections, and will give Corren, a former legislator, a fighting chance in a contest that would otherwise list heavily in Scott’s favor. And if Corren can win backing from Democrats – as he hopes to do by winning a write-in campaign for their party’s primary – then his access to the Democratic apparatus will improve his chances more.
In the House, where they hold only 46 seats in the 150-member body, Republicans will look to gain the numbers needed for relevance during a biennium in which they’ll want to be able to mount an effective opposition to Shumlin’s single-payer plans. With only 82 GOP candidates in the running, Republicans don’t have much hope of evening the divide significantly. But GOP leaders say they have opportunities in some key battleground districts.
And in an upcoming session where the push for a public financing package for single-payer could come down to a handful of votes, minority leaders say every seat will count.
Republicans are also looking to improve on their super-minority status in the Senate, where some prominent GOP names are looking to win open seats in some counties, and to take out incumbent Democratic officeholders in others. Democrats, meanwhile, will be looking to hold their numbers steady in a Statehouse where they wield almost total control over the legislative agenda.