Jack Lindley addresses a November 2013 meeting of the Vermont Republican Party as Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (seated at right) listens.
Former state auditor and senator Randy Brock hasn't said whether he'll seek to unseat Gov. Peter Shumlin this fall, but his allies are working to clear the Republican field for him.
In an open letter released over the weekend, former Vermont Republican Party chairman Jack Lindley urged the Vermont GOP to "unite and support Randy Brock for Governor." On Wednesday, Brock's former campaign hand, Darcie Johnston, called on another potential contender — Milne Travel president Scott Milne — to refrain from entering the race.
"Vermonters should unite around Randy Brock to have the best opportunity and maybe the only opportunity to run a successful campaign against Peter Shumlin," Johnston said. "I'm absolutely saying Scott Milne should not run."
Since he first floated his name as a potential candidate two weeks ago, Milne has argued that an intramural match would strengthen the eventual Republican nominee and bolster his or her chances in a general election contest.
"I very much believe that in Vermont right now, which is such a blue state, that a positive, issue-oriented primary where we'e talking about what's wrong with the state and how to fix it — I think that's good for the Republican party," Milne said Wednesday.
But Johnston said that a primary would distract from the end goal of defeating Shumlin.
"Any other candidate at this time will only make it impossible for Randy Brock to raise the resources to prosecute a campaign against Peter Shumlin," she said. "A Republican primary will keep donors on the sidelines both in Vermont and outside of Vermont, and in order for a candidate to be viable against Peter Shumlin, they need the ability to raise significant resources very quickly. Raising those resources after the primary on August 26 is too late."
Johnston, who served as Brock's de facto campaign manager when he ran for governor in 2012, said she was speaking only as a supporter, volunteer and potential donor. While she continues to lead the anti-health care reform group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, Johnston is currently managing Arizona gubernatorial candidate Frank Riggs' campaign.
Brock, who did not return a call seeking comment, has been reaching out to party members and potential donors to gauge their support for a second bid. Last week, he spoke with the GOP's sole statewide officeholder, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who has clashed with Brock in the past. Last fall, Scott and his allies orchestrated Lindley's ouster as party chairman and installed his own pick, David Sunderland.
"[Brock] did ask if he ran whether I would support him and I said, well, I've supported you in the past, but if there was a primary, certainly, I would wait until after the primary to see who would win," Scott said. "Scott Milne is somebody from Barre I've known throughout my life — not that I'm supporting him in the primary — but I would want to stay neutral throughout the primary."
Scott said he "had nothing to do with" Milne considering a challenge and was surprised when he learned his old friend was interested. But he said having "a new face" on the ballot might be healthy for the party.
"I wouldn't say he's 'my guy', but I like him," Scott said. "I think he's a bit of fresh air."
In his recent letter, Lindley argued that Brock, in fact, represented the party's best bet to defeat the incumbent.
Though Shumlin bested Brock by a 58 to 38 percent margin in 2012, Lindley wrote that "the electoral math of a non-presidential year" would benefit Republicans. Without President Obama or Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) or Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) up for reelection, turnout could be lower than it was in 2010, when Shumlin barely beat then-lieutenant governor Brian Dubie, Lindley argued.
He wrote that Shumlin's popularity has diminished due to his unwillingness to disclose the cost of his single-payer health care plan, a loss of "livable wage jobs" and his support for liberal priorities, such as GMO labeling and renewable power generation.
"What will it take to sweep out the careless Shumlin administration and install a new leader like Brock?" Lindley asked. "First it will take the VT GOP to fully endorse Brock's candidacy, it will take independents (including the business community) to recognize that balance can only be achieved by electing a new governor, and moderate Democrats will need to realize that their agenda is at risk of derailment due to Shumlin's reckless management style and longterm impact."
Lindley's optimism is not shared by the lieutenant governor.
"Either candidate is going to have an uphill battle, I believe, in unseating Peter Shumlin," Scott said. "It can be done, but it's an uphill battle."