Brandon Riker, left, and Sen. David Zuckerman Wednesday at the Statehouse
He was the first one to enter Vermont's lieutenant gubernatorial race, and he spent, by far, the most money on it. But Brandon Riker's campaign for the state's No. 2 job never quite took off. On Wednesday afternoon, he called it quits and endorsed a former rival, Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden).
"Quite honestly, I made a lot of mistakes as a first-time candidate," Riker said at a remarkably candid Statehouse press conference.
Chief among them, the 28-year-old Marlboro resident said, was his decision to contribute more than $59,000 of his own money to the campaign soon after he entered the race last May. By the time Riker dropped out, he and his immediate family had ponied up nearly $66,000.
"I thought it was going to jumpstart the campaign," he said. "Instead, it created a picture that I was trying to buy the seat, which wasn't true. But that was a hard one to get over."
In total, Riker raised $188,000 and spent nearly $71,000 of it — much of it on campaign consultants and staff. He pledged Wednesday to reimburse all of his donors.
"I won't be holding on to a war chest for the future. I'm not seeking another, smaller seat," he said. "I got in this because I believe the state needs better leadership, so I'm not going to go run for the state Senate or the state House. I'm going to return the money and close the bank account."
Riker said he made the decision to leave the race over the weekend after reviewing the campaign finance reports of each of his rivals.
"The truth was, we didn't have the grassroots support — and the only candidate in the race that did was Dave," he said. "When you look at his filing numbers, his money came from Vermonters in small amounts. And the path forward was going to be one that was going to require me to go down a path I don't think politics should, which was to bring more out-of-state money to Vermont in order to win."
Last week, Zuckerman reported raising nearly $65,000. Of that, 76 percent came from Vermonters and 57 percent came from those contributing $100 or less.
Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington), his sole remaining Democratic rival, raised $103,000. Of that, 66 percent came from Vermonters and 18 percent came from those contributing $100 or less.
Republican Randy Brock, a former state senator and auditor, is also running for the position, as is independent Louis Meyers. The incumbent, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, is vacating the office to run for governor.
Near the end of Wednesday's press conference, after Riker described the mistakes he thought he'd made, Zuckerman added his two cents.
"We all make mistakes," the veteran pol said. "Even after 20 years."