Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) and Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) said Wednesday they remain committed to their pursuit of the nomination in an August primary. Both said Smith gave them a heads-up Tuesday about his plans to join the race.
“I look forward to a robust debate on the issues,” Zuckerman said Wednesday morning, later issuing a press release that listed numerous issues on which he will challenge Smith.
“We have been out on the campaign trail for the last 24 weeks and we are feeling positively about the reaction we’re getting from Vermonters,” Ram said.
Some Vermont Democrats had encouraged the 29-year-old Ram, the least experienced of the candidates, to run instead for the state Senate. She declined.
“Very few people have pressured me to drop out,” she said, noting she will highlight her experience as a four-term House member, preschool teacher, domestic violence victims’ advocate and public engagement specialist for the city of Burlington.
Smith, Ram and Zuckerman will compete in the August 9 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican Randy Brock, a former state auditor and former state senator, in the November general election. The incumbent lieutenant governor, Republican Phil Scott, is running for governor.
Rep. Kesha Ram
Smith acknowledged that Ram and Zuckerman are “two very credible opponents,” making victory far from a sure thing. But there’s little question his candidacy makes the race tougher for them. Smith had been a candidate for governor until last November, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer and he suspended his campaign.
A 50-year-old lawyer who has been House speaker for eight years and in the legislature for 14 years, Smith has a devoted following among House Democrats.
Smith said he plans to take a leave of absence from the Burlington law firm Dinse Knapp McAndrew within the next couple of weeks, and that he will leave the firm if he is elected lieutenant governor. He said he expects to open a campaign office by the end of May, with a campaign kickoff to follow.
Smith is expected to hire Erika Wolffing, who has experience in political campaigns and public policy, as his campaign manager. Wolffing worked on Gov. Peter Shumlin’s campaigns, served as deputy labor commissioner and for the last two years was chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tempore John Campell (D-Windsor).
Paul Ralston, a former state representative from Middlebury who had been considering a run for lieutenant governor, said Wednesday he won’t run, as Smith’s candidacy fills a void that had worried him.
“Many of us had concerns about the field of candidates, but I believe Shap Smith will be good for the Senate and good for the state. He has unrivaled experience and skill in presiding over a legislative body, but more importantly, if the need ever arises, he is the one person I would want there to step into the governor’s role,” Ralston said.
Ram, who lined up numerous House members to support her campaign, will likely see some of that support erode with Smith in the race. She warned against making assumptions about that, however. “I have always been someone who was underestimated,” she said.
File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
Sen. David Zuckerman
Zuckerman, 44, was more hard-hitting, indicating that he will challenge Smith head-on over issues. Though the two have agreed on some issues — including the passage of same-sex marriage — Zuckerman argued Smith hasn’t gone far enough on others.
“I look forward to hearing an explanation for his hesitation on issues where grassroots Vermonters and many of us in the legislature had to push for his support: marijuana reform, universal health care, livable wages, GMO labeling, and paid sick days are some of the examples that come to mind,” Zuckerman said in a press release.
“I will also be watching to see Shap explain his lack of support for Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s movement to address the struggles and needs of working families is resonating nationwide,” Zuckerman continued. Smith is supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton, rather than the Vermont senator, in the presidential primary.
Smith said he’s ready for the debate. “We can talk about who actually gets things done,” he said.