Write-In Brings Intrigue To GOP Gubernatorial Primary

Aug 25, 2014

An insurgent write-in campaign for the Republican gubernatorial primary is getting some unlikely support from GOP insiders; Libertarian Dan Feliciano hopes to win the party nomination in Tuesday’s election.

Republican candidate for governor Scott Milne is still the runaway favorite to win his party’s primary on Tuesday. Milne has garnered a long list of endorsements – including one from former Republican Gov. James Douglas – to prove his support among GOP stalwarts.

“We have a great chance to unseat an incumbent governor for the first time in 52 years as we get to November,” Milne said Monday. “And I’m looking forward to being the man that’s leading the team that’s going to do that.”

But some noteworthy members of the Vermont Republican Party are jumping ranks, and throwing their weight behind the Libertarian Party’s Dan Feliciano. Brady Toensing is the vice-chairman of the Vermont GOP. Over the weekend, he urged his Twitter followers to write-in Feliciano’s name on Tuesday. 

“What I wanted to do with my vote is support the best qualified, best prepared candidate to take on Peter Shumlin,” Toensing said Monday. “And I’ve done that by writing in Dan Feliciano”

Toensing joins GOP Treasurer Mark Snelling, former Republican candidate for treasurer Wendy Wilton, and two Republican county chairmen who have also come out in support of Feliciano. 

Whereas Milne has expressed some willingness to consider the merits of the single-payer health care system being pushed by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, Feliciano has denounced it unequivocally. Feliciano says he’d open up the private insurance market to more competition.

And Feliciano has adopted other policy stances – public school choice, for instance – that appeal to the party’s conservative base.

Feliciano’s supporters have expressed frustration over Milne’s unwillingness to denounce single-payer – to do so without more information, Milne has said, would make him an “ideologue.”  And they say his lack of concrete policy plans for issues like property taxes and health care – Milne says those will be coming later this summer and fall – have diminished confidence in his candidacy.

“The endorsements are just confirmation that I have a plan, I have experience, and I’m willing to commit myself to some popular and unpopular things and tackle it head on,” Feliciano said Monday.

Vermont Republicans are at the lowest point in their once-proud political history, having lost control of all but one statewide office, and fallen to super-minority status in the Legislature.

Tuesday’s primary between Milne and Feliciano has become a sort of proxy fight in the ongoing battle within the Republican Party over how to reconnect with the Vermont electorate.

"The endorsements are just confirmation that I have a plan, I have experience, and I'm willing to commit myself to some popular and unpopular things and tackle it head on." - Dan Feliciano

“Unfortunately in my opinion, some folks in the Republican Party … want to sort of have a debate about philosophical differences rather than really focus on the practical issues that unite us,” Milne said.

Veteran Republican operative Darcie Johnston, who played a central role in the high-profile split within the Republican Party last year, is serving as a volunteer campaign manager for Feliciano. Johnston was the campaign manager of former Sen. Randy Brock's gubernatorial campaign in 2012.

Feliciano says he’s the only candidate who’s committed to blocking single-payer health care. He says Milne’s refusal to do the same is the central reason he launched the write-in campaign in the first place.

And no matter his margin of his likely defeat in Tuesday’s primary, Feliciano says he’ll be looking to turn the 2014 gubernatorial race into a three-way contest come November.

“So I’m in this and we’re going to continue running hard, because I need to be able to go toe-to-toe with Peter Shumlin in the debates,” Feliciano said.

David Sunderland, chairman of the Vermont GOP, said Monday that Feliciano’s vow to stay in the race, regardless of how Vermonters vote Tuesday, is telling.

“I mean clearly that shows that he’s not a Republican, clearly that shows that he is running as a third-party fringe candidate and has no intention of supporting the Republican candidates after the primary,” Sunderland said.

In addition to former Gov. Douglas, more than three dozen sitting Republican legislators have formally endorsed Milne’s candidacy, which Sunderland said highlights the superficiality of Feliciano’s support from just a handful of GOP officials.

“This is a very small number of people [who endorse Feliciano] that we’re talking about, and I think what it shows most strongly is the endorsement from Gov. Jim Douglas that Scott Milne has obtained,” Sunderland said. “And I think that will carry the greatest sway with Vermont Republicans in the primary tomorrow.”

Vermont Republican Party Chair David Sunderland said Scott Milne's support within the party is solid, despite some high-profile endorsements of Libertarian Candidate Dan Feliciano.
Credit John Dillon / VPR

Sunderland said resorting to single-issue litmus tests for GOP candidates risks alienating the centrist voters on whom Republicans will rely if they ever hope to make inroads to the governor’s office and the Legislature.

“I think the issue is that we need to come together as a party that incudes not just the solidly right-leaning faction of the political spectrum … but also extends an open hand to those with more moderate views,” Sunderland said.

Progressive Party candidate for lieutenant governor Dean Corren is also waging a high-profile write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination. There are no Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor on the ballot, so Corren only needs to get 250 votes  in order to qualify for that nomination.

Republicans Steve Berry and Emily Peyton will be on the GOP gubernatorial ballot running against Milne, so Feliciano must get more votes than all three in order to win that nomination.