Rick Kenyon, Richard Morton, Rep. Janssen Willhoit, Anya Tynio and Lawrence Zupan
The Vermont Republican Party's state committee approved a slate of nominees for statewide office at a not-very-democratic special meeting Wednesday night in Montpelier. The meeting was necessitated after political gadfly H. Brooke Paige ran for, and won, six separate Republican nominations in the August 14 primary — for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer.
After an hour of wrangling over the rules, the committee quickly filled the available slots. Two men faced off for U.S. Senate: Manchester real estate broker Lawrence Zupan and Dan Feliciano, a 2016 Republican candidate for auditor who also ran for governor in 2014, as a Libertarian. Zupan bested Feliciano 56 votes to 12. (One vote was cast for "Douglas," an apparent reference to former governor Jim Douglas.) Zupan will now challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
"I'm going to invite Sen. Sanders to have eight debates with me," Zupan said when asked how he would take on a very popular and deep-pocketed incumbent. "I think the people of Vermont miss Bernie. He's been everyplace but Vermont, it seems, and I'd like to invite him to revisit the state that launched his political career."
Zupan depicted Sanders as a "socialist" with "a complete misunderstanding of how the world works and how economics works. It's a pity that he doesn't love the American Revolution as much as he loves his imaginary new revolution."
Anya Tynio, 25, a sales representative for the Newport Daily Express, won the nod for U.S. representative on a voice vote. Tynio had been a candidate in the Republican primary, but lost to Paige. She will face U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). If she wins, she would be the first woman elected to Congress by the state of Vermont, but she faces long odds against a popular incumbent.
"I am the complete opposite of [Welch]. I am a conservative," Tynio said. "I'm working class. I'm younger than Peter Welch. I understand the problems of youth fleeing the state for better opportunities."
Two candidates vied for attorney general: Rep. Janssen Willhoit (R-St. Johnsbury) and Burlington lawyer Jasdeep Pannu. Willhoit won, 51-17. He will face incumbent Democrat T.J. Donovan.
State party treasurer Richard Morton was approved on a voice vote to challenge incumbent State Treasurer Beth Pearce, and Brattleboro accountant Rick Kenyon will be the Republican opponent to incumbent Democrat/Progressive Auditor Doug Hoffer. Paige will remain on the ballot as the Republican challenger to Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat.
The five new Republican nominees face tough battles with little time to spare. And their party may not be able to offer much in the way of support. "We'll be able to offer them what we've offered our other candidates, which is a lot of volunteer help," said Jack Moulton, the party's executive director. "And as funds materialize and we work with fundraising, we'll make sure that they have the things they need to get moving."
Money has been a challenge for the VTGOP for years, so those funds may or may not actually materialize.
Moulton expressed satisfaction with the newly minted slate, praising the "fantastic candidates" chosen by the state committee. Still, it was odd that a major party had to resort to a closed process after failing to field candidates for consideration by the voters. "We actively recruited for 24 months before the primary," Moulton said. "But right now, I think we're all happy with the outcome we have here."
Paige's intent was to prevent the outcome of past years, when Democrats have garnered Republican nominations through write-in votes. Whatever one thinks of his tactics, he clearly accomplished his goal. This is the first year since 2002 that the Vermont Republican Party has fielded a full slate of candidates for statewide office.