*** Updated 7:10 p.m. ***
After weeks of trial-balloon floating, House Speaker Shap Smith has decided against challenging Attorney General Bill Sorrell for the state’s top law-enforcement job.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Smith said he would instead seek reelection to the House this fall and, if reelected, a third term as speaker.
"I see many opportunities to build a stronger Vermont by enhancing our education, tax, and health care systems, and I believe I can make the greatest positive impact in those areas as Speaker of the House," Smith said.
The speaker elaborated on his decision later in the day during a press briefing in his Statehouse office. He said he had looked closely at the numbers — county by county — and believed he would have won the race had he entered it.
“The more I looked at the race and the more I talked to people, the more I believed I would win the race. I think having that as a backdrop made the decision harder, rather than easier, but it also made me really reflect on what I wanted to do and where I thought I could do work I enjoy,” Smith said.
“In the end, I realized how much I really love being in the House and love working with the people here,” he said.
Smith is just one of many state politicos who have bandied their names about as possible challengers to Sorrell, a seven-term incumbent Democrat. Fellow Dem T.J. Donovan, the Chittenden County state's attorney, is the only one to formally announce a bid. Earlier this week, he released a preliminary list of campaign staff and advisors.
Potential challengers on the Republican side include Sen. Vince Illuzzi (Essex/Orleans), who has said he will make a decision after the legislature adjourns, and Secretary of the Senate John Bloomer.
Despite the fact that he seriously considered challenging Sorrell, Smith declined to say whether that meant he thought Sorrell should no longer be the party’s standard-bearer. That Smith considered the race in the first place was merely a reflection of his belief that he “could bring a different perspective to the attorney general’s office,” he said.
Smith said he would not make an endorsement in the race.
“I’m going to stay out of it,” he said, noting that he had done so during the five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2010.
With Smith out of the running, the race for the Democratic nomination is likely to be a two-man contest between candidates who both hail from Chittenden County, the state’s population center. Despite rumors that state Dems are pressuring Sorrell to hang up his hat, the incumbent has appeared in recent weeks to be energized and spoiling for a fight.
Last week former governor Howard Dean — who appointed Sorrell to AG and who credits Sorrell’s mother with getting him involved in Vermont politics — told Seven Days’ Andy Bromage that he’s all in for the incumbent AG. Gov. Peter Shumlin, on the other hand, has indicated he will stay neutral on the race — for the time being.