MONTPELIER — In the wake of Thursday’s announcement by Gov. Jim Douglas that he would not seek re-election, speculation has focused on the mix of candidates likely to compete for the gubernatorial post.
Longtime Vermont political observer Eric Davis, Middlebury College professor emeritus of political science, said Douglas’s announcement was clearly timed “to give other candidates time to organize campaigns. The Democrats are out there already.”
Confirmed Democrat candidates include Vermont Sens. Racine and Susan Bartlett of Hyde Park, along with Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz. Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, a Putney Democrat, is also considering entering the fray and state Auditor Tom Salmon is considered a possible candidate as a fiscal moderate within the Democrat Party.
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Davis noted that while Democrat candidates already have their campaigns organized, GOP hopefuls have not, given the previous speculation that Douglas would seek re-election.
“There is no Republican right now organized to run a campaign,” Davis said on Thursday. “The Democrats will have a primary, but they have a head start at this point.”
That might change quickly, as Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie — an Essex Junction Republican, American Airlines pilot and former Goodrich Aerospace worker — is considering a run for governor.
“His (Douglas’) announcement has changed the political landscape,” Dubie said during an interview in his Statehouse office last Thursday. “Vermonters individually and collectively are going to reflect on that new landscape. I will contemplate, in a very short amount of time, how I will fit into that new landscape in light of new opportunities to serve the people of the state of Vermont. Very soon, not today, I will announce my intentions on how I would fit into this new opportunity.”
Davis noted that recent history is not on the side of Dubie or any other Republican candidate for governor. Prior to Douglas, Richard Snelling was the last Republican to successfully run for governor, in 1990. The last Vermont GOP candidate to win major elective office was U.S. Sen. James Jeffords (re-election), in 1994. Jeffords would later drop his GOP affiliation to become an independent.
“You have to go back 15 years to find the election of a Republican (for major office) as a Republican,” Davis said.
Former Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Martha Rainville and current state Sen. Randy Brock of Franklin County could emerge as potential gubernatorial candidates in 2010, according to Davis.
But he stressed the Republican Party must hurry to get one or more candidates in the running.
“There is no Republican out there right now with the fiscal and organizational resources to win,” Davis said.
Douglas said he did not make his decision in consideration of who might succeed him. But he was candid in his opinion that Dubie would be a logical candidate for the job.
“I think Lt. Gov. (Brian) Dubie is the obvious, likely choice, if he is interested,” Douglas said. “He has indicated he wants to take some time to assess the news of my announcement and make a decision in consultation with his family and advisors. I certainly believe he is eminently qualified to serve, if he should choose to do so. Beyond that, I have no doubt that the Republican Party will field a credible candidate.”
The eventual GOP nominee could even be a neophyte to politics, Douglas hinted.
“It might not be someone who is in elective office right now,” Douglas said, alluding to the late Gov. Deane C. Davis, a former lawyer, judge and businessman who four decades ago ran successfully for the post. “It could be someone who is not on the political radar screen right now.”
DEMOCRATS AT THE READY
Markowitz, as of the last campaign finance deadline, has already raised in excess of $200,000.
She issued a brief statement regarding Douglas’s announcement.
“I want to congratulate and applaud Jim Douglas for his years of service to the state,” Markowitz said. “Douglas is a Vermonter who has devoted his life to public service. Vermonters, regardless of political party, should honor him for his commitment to serving the state for all of these years. I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”
Racine was one of the first candidates to announce his intentions to run again for governor. During an interview at the Statehouse on Thursday, he was somewhat surprised by Douglas’s announcement, but understood the factors that went into it.
“Having been in politics a long time like the governor has, I know you struggle at times to make a decision,” Racine said. “I think he was trying to figure out what he was going to do, and once he made his own personal decision, he decided to announce it rather than have it come out in backroom conversations and rumors. I applaud him for making up his mind and announcing to Vermonters what he intends to do.”
Racine said the absence of an incumbent will make the gubernatorial race more interesting, and will undoubtedly shape candidates’ campaign messages.
“It’s less a referendum on Jim Douglas; it’ll still be a referendum on his policies,” Racine said. “I assume that whoever runs on the Republican side will embrace what he has done, so we will talk about the policies without the personality involved. It will be more of a race about the future of Vermont than about what has happened in the past.”
Asked if he thought the race would now be easier without Douglas in the mix, Racine said, “None of us are going to have the advantage of incumbency at this point, no matter who we are. It might help me. I have been through a number of races, Vermonters know who I am, and I will reintroduce myself, as there are still people who want to know more about me.”
Racine said his campaign will focus on the economic future of Vermont and ways to enhance the prospect for success of the state’s future generations.
Bartlett, chairwoman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said that like Racine she had been prepared to run for the top office regardless of any others in the race.
“When I decided to run, I did not decide to run against Jim Douglas or anybody else. I decided to run because of what I was hearing from Vermonters and the kinds of concerns and issues that they have — that we have a good economic development plan that creates real jobs for folks, that we deal with health care, renewable energy and hearing that Vermonters were ready for a change,” Bartlett said on Thursday. “So it doesn’t change my perspective, my goals or my plans at all.”