Who'll run for GOP?
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | August 28,2009
MONTPELIER — Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, heir-apparent to the Republican Party's departing standard-bearer, wouldn't say Thursday whether he'll seek the state's top elected office in 2010.
But party officials insist they have plenty of viable candidates waiting in the wings as Republicans seek to fill the leadership void left by their four-term governor's decision not to run again.
Minutes after Gov. James Douglas made his announcement, the issue of succession focused squarely on Dubie, who won the lieutenant governor's office in 2000 and has enjoyed comfortable re-election margins ever since.
During an interview in his first-floor office, the Essex pilot and Air Force reservist said he's not ready to announce yet whether he'll seek to replace Douglas. Soon though, he promised, he'll share his intentions with Vermont voters.
"The landscape has changed as a result of Gov. Douglas' announcement today. Vermonters are going to reflect on that new landscape, and I will contemplate in very short order how that new landscape presents new opportunities for me," Dubie said. "I'll have conversations with my family, and when the time is right, I will make an announcement about my intentions."
Dubie and other prominent Republican officials said the party maintains a deep bench of strong candidates. One of them, they said, will grab the reins as Republicans work to retain their eight-year hold on Vermont's governorship, ensuring a lively contest for the 2010 election.
Among the names floated Thursday was that of State Sen. Randy Brock of Franklin County. Brock was the last Republican other than Dubie or Douglas to be elected to a statewide office (he won the auditor's job in 2004, a position he lost in 2006 to current auditor Tom Salmon).
Martha Rainville, the former adjutant general of Vermont's National Guard who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in 2006, is often mentioned as a possible candidate for office. She said Thursday that, at this point she has no intention of running for that office or any other in Vermont.
Rainville, currently a resident of Washington, D.C., added however that "I've learned never to say I'll never do something because life has a way of stepping in and altering that."
Sen. Kevin Mullin, from Rutland County, is also the subject of statewide speculation. Rep. Pat McDonald, a Berlin representative who formerly served as Douglas' secretary of transportation, has also been touted as a potential Douglas replacement.
The early list from party insiders additionally includes Charlie Smith, a former secretary of administration under Douglas who recently left his position heading the Snelling Center for Government; John Bloomer Jr., a Rutland lawyer and former Senate minority leader, and former House Speaker Walt Freed.
The proverbial ball, however, appears to be in Dubie's court, as Republicans defer to a proven statewide office winner who has exhibited the same cross-party appeal that earned Douglas gubernatorial victories in this left-leaning state.
"The first name that comes to mind is Brian Dubie," said Rob Roper, head of the Vermont GOP.
"Clearly we're looking at what Lt. Gov. Dubie does," Brock seconded. "He's really at the head of our discussions."
During a 10-minute interview, Dubie, after praising Douglas' "admirable" turn at the helm, enumerated the fiscal challenges still facing Vermonters and their government.
"Those challenges aren't going to go away as a result of Gov. Douglas' announcement," Dubie said. "… This is an opportunity for us to rededicate and reunite ourselves."
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, said Republicans have good reason to coalesce around the lieutenant governor.
"My sense is the Republicans would like to avoid a primary if at all possible," said Davis, noting that Democratic gubernatorial candidates already have a head start over their will-be Republican opponent. "If Republicans could coalesce behind a candidate by early next year, that would help them overcome that."
Dubie, according to Davis, is likely the only Republican candidate around whom all party members would unite.
"If Dubie does run, my guess is there would be no primary and he'd be the consensus nominee," Davis said. "If he doesn't run, it's a more open and fluid situation and it could be harder to avoid a primary."
Of the Republican officeholders past and present named as potential Douglas replacements, none offered concrete plans for the future Thursday.
Brock said the altered political landscape will be the subject of ongoing Republican skull sessions.
"I certainly expect to be an integral part of those discussions," Brock said. "As for my own plans, I will certainly announce them in due course and likely in the very near future. I wouldn't rule anything out."
Republicans insisted that Thursday's announcement is more of an opportunity than a political setback. Roper said that phones were ringing off the hook at party headquarters with calls from party faithful eager to chart a course for the future.
"I think there's a lot of energy right now and I think 2010 will be an excellent year for Republicans," Roper said. "I think we're going to have a lot of names to choose from as this sort of reverberates through the state, and will bring to people's attention some folks who might not have otherwise been on the radar screen."
Bloomer said Douglas' announcement, however disappointing, presents a chance for fresh faces to breathe new life into the party.
"When anyone who has been such a force in the political landscape of Vermont decides not to run for re-election, I think there's opportunities on both sides," Bloomer said. "The chairs start moving, so to speak, and when that occurs I think it creates opportunities for new blood in both parties to try to rise to the top."
Asked about his own political prospects, Bloomer ruled nothing out and said he would be speaking with his family and advisors about his political future.
McDonald, who said she was flattered to be among the names floated as a potential gubernatorial candidate (she also said she would consider her future ambitions in the coming weeks) said Republicans can, with support from Douglas' legacy, field viable candidates in any number of statewide races.
"We are feeling that the next election is generally positive for Republicans, because of the message we have been carrying about fiscal responsibility," McDonald said.
Brock challenged the notion that Republicans lack a slate of viable successors – a criticism sometimes lobbed by political observers like Davis. And Dubie, who sought first to celebrate the accomplishments of Douglas, also touted the strength of his own party.
"There's some outstanding people that have a lot of experience in statewide office," Dubie said. "And I think there are going to be some surprises. An open seat brings new energy, new people forward … I'm optimistic and hopeful for the state and the Republican Party."