No Major Surprises as Vermont's 2024 Primaries Take Shape | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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No Major Surprises as Vermont's 2024 Primaries Take Shape


Published May 31, 2024 at 4:50 p.m.

The Vermont Statehouse - FILE
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  • The Vermont Statehouse
Vermont’s 2024 election landscape came into sharper focus on Friday, but it was hard to see many major battles shaping up for statewide offices or significant challenges to the Democrats’ supermajority in the legislature.

Candidates seeking to qualify for the August 13 primary ballot had until Thursday at 5 p.m. to file signatures and campaign paperwork. Independent candidates are able to file later in the cycle.

Elections staff in the Secretary of State’s Office were still working with town clerks to finalize the full list of candidates running under a party banner, but there were few surprises in the early goings.

As expected, Republican Gov. Phil Scott will not face a challenge from a primary opponent. In the general, Democrats failed to recruit a gubernatorial candidate with any statewide political experience.

Esther Charlestin, a former member of the Middlebury Selectboard, announced her run as a Dem in January. In the primary, she'll face Peter Duval, who was ousted from the Underhill Selectboard in 2021 for allegedly bullying town staff. He ran as an independent in 2022.

Marielle Blais, of Montpelier, is listed as a Progressive candidate for governor. But she is one of several people the party put forward for statewide offices as a way to preserve its ability to replace them at a later date with candidates considered more viable. If the party hadn't put forward a name, an unapproved candidate could have run and earned the Progressive nomination.

Former governor Howard Dean flirted with a gubernatorial bid. But he bowed out last week, citing his desire to spend time with his grandchildren and the difficulty of unseating a popular governor without running a negative campaign.
Jim Dandeneau, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, said it has been very difficult to find candidates willing to take on Scott.

“He’s very popular, and he’s very well known, and it's really hard to change that narrative, but we’re going to give it a shot,” Dandeneau said.

The race for lieutenant governor looks somewhat more competitive. David Zuckerman, who runs as a Progressive and a Democrat, is seeking another term.

He’s being challenged for the Democratic nomination by Winooski City Councilor Thomas Renner, who has worked for former U.S. senator Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.).
Listed for the Progressive nomination is former Burlington city councilor Zoraya Hightower, who was first woman of color elected to the council. She served from 2020 through March of this year and was instrumental in the push to cut staffing in the city police department.

But Zuckerman said Hightower is a “strong ally.” The party’s strategy is for her to win and then drop out so Zuckerman, after winning the Democratic nomination, can replace her for the Progressive nomination.

On the Republican side, former Democratic senator and gubernatorial candidate John Rodgers of Glover has switched parties to run for the LG job. The pugilistic pot farmer and stonemason has long been a conservative Democrat with a libertarian streak. In recent years, he seemed more at odds with Dems as he voiced concerns about the cost of living and perceived attacks on the rural way of life.

Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP, called Rodgers' flip a "big win" and a sign of a grassroots anti-tax revolt that's under way.

"I think it demonstrates that there are a lot of people like John Rodgers who have voted Democrat out of habit who are recognizing that the Democrats don’t represent what they are really about," Dame said.

Rodgers will first have to square off against Greg Thayer, an accountant and former Rutland alderman who protested outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. It’s not clear if Thayer's support for Donald Trump has waned following the former president’s felony convictions this week.

Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas, Treasurer Mike Pieciak, Attorney General Charity Clark, and Auditor Doug Hoffer all lack challengers in the Democratic primary. Perennial Republican candidate H. Brooke Paige is on the ballot for attorney general, auditor and treasurer. Joshua Bechhoefer of Cornwall is running for treasurer as a Republican, as well.

Federal races are equally sleepy. Balint faces no primary challenger, and the only Republican to step forward is Mark Coester of Westminster.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) faces no Democratic opposition either, but Republican Gerald Malloy is running against him. Malloy handily won the Republican nomination in 2022 for Leahy’s open seat but lost badly in the general election to U.S. Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
In the legislature, a number of town clerks have yet to submit all candidates who have qualified, so a final list is still several days away, according to Séan Sheehan, director of elections in the Secretary of State's Office.

Dame said recruiting new Republican candidates was particularly hard this year.

"I'm disappointed. It's one of the smallest recruitment classes that we've had in the last 10 years," Dame said.

One of the challenges he said he faced is that people who considered running to try to keep taxes and the cost of living in check decided not to run in part because of the financial stress they're facing.

Dandeneau said he faced some last-minute scrambling to find candidates but didn’t see any significant trends that would suggest a threat to Democrats’ dominance in the legislature.

Gov. Scott’s pledge to work harder than he has in the past to get moderate Republicans elected to the General Assembly doesn't seem to have panned out, Dandeneau said.

“I think he got a couple of people to run but not any break-the-supermajority numbers,” Dandeneau said.

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