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Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, second from left
After pulling off a narrow victory last fall against businessman Scott Milne in a contest that almost no one saw as competitive, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced that he would not seek a fourth two-year term next year. Vermont has a very deep Democratic bench, and Shumlin's departure could open the floodgates for ambitious politicians looking for a promotion. But even though Republicans are heavily outnumbered in the Green Mountain State, there are a few possible contenders who could put this seat in play.
However, there's one Democrat who might be able to clear the primary field. Rep. Peter Welch represents the entire state in the House, and he's considering a bid to replace Shumlin. Welch, who served as the Democratic nominee for governor all the way back in 1990, is one of Vermont's best-known politicians, and he'd be tough to beat in a primary. Welch is publicly undecided, though he's wisely reserved the "Welchforgovernor.com" domain name just in case. If Welch runs for governor, plenty of his would-be rivals could seek his vacant House seat instead, though the more daring types may try their luck against him.
But if Welch stays in Washington, we could see another chaotic Democratic primary for the state's chief executive. In 2010, four notable Democrats competed here and the victorious Shumlin finished only four points ahead of the fourth-place contender. Head over the fold for a look at what could be one of the most unpredictable contests in the nation.
The big name to watch besides Welch looks like state House Speaker Shap Smith, who confirms that he's seriously contemplating a run. The powerful speaker commands plenty of respect in the state, and he'd likely emerge as a front-runner (if not the front-runner) if Welch stays out. However, Smith could find himself in a tight spot, since he's long been close with Shumlin, and that relationship could be a liability among Democrats who want to turn the page on the current governorship. On the other hand, for some progressives, Smith isn't hewing close enough to what was once the governor's signature policy goal: They want Smith to revive Shumlin's now-abandoned plan to implement a single-payer health insurance system for the state, and they won't be happy that he's thus far declined to do so.
Former state Sen. Matt Dunne, now an official at Google, sounds excited about jumping in, saying he's "absolutely considering a run." Dunne came in a close fourth in the 2010 primary and he's always had a bloc of loyal supporters behind him that could make all the difference in a crowded contest. State Sen. Anthony Pollina, who served as the Progressive Party's nominee for governor in 2008, is interested, too. While the left-wing Progressives have often siphoned votes from Democrats—indeed, the Democrat came in third in that 2008 race—Pollina was elected to the legislature on a Democratic-Progressive fusion ticket. (Vermont allows candidates to run in multiple primaries and claim multiple nominations.) Apparently preferring reconciliation to division, Pollina now says he wants a Progressive to run in the Democratic primary rather than as a third-party contender, though he's not sure if he'll do it himself.
A few other Democrats could also wind up on the primary ballot. Former Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, who narrowly lost the 2002 general and 2010 primary, says he needs to think about it, though he doesn't sound incredibly interested. One intriguing possibility is well-known diplomat Peter Galbraith, who served as a state senator before retiring last year and is also the son of legendary economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Galbraith said he's looking at the contest, though he didn't offer anything more than that.
Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan hasn't ruled anything out, though he may have his sights set on being attorney general instead. Transportation Secretary Sue Minter also didn't say no, though there's speculation that she's really looking at running for lieutenant governor. Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross also didn't close the door on a bid, but he also sounded very lukewarm about the idea.
Republicans will have a difficult time winning the governor's mansion in a presidential cycle, but Team Red is excited about one potential candidate. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has been publicly considering for a while (even before Shumlin bailed), and his ability to consistently win in this blue state would make him a tough contender. However, Scott would need to give up his construction business to run, something he may be reluctant to do.
If Scott declines, the GOP's next-best choice is probably former Lt. Gov. and 2010 nominee Brian Dubie, who confirms he's thinking about it. Dubie only narrowly lost to Shumlin in 2010, and he'd bring plenty of name recognition to the table. However, Dubie's conservative stance on abortion was a big liability last time, and he could have an even more difficult time with a presidential electorate. Burlington Electric Department Manager Neale Lunderville is also thinking about it, though he made it clear he'll defer to Scott. Lunderville, who worked in Republican Jim Douglas's administration, has attracted plenty of attention for his work on green energy, which could play well in this blue state, though he hasn't run for office before.
The GOP has a few other possibilities, though none of them are incredibly compelling. Milne, the man who almost unseated Shumlin last year, is considering another try, though he's said he's inclined to defer to Scott. Ex-Auditor and 2012 nominee Randy Brock and 2014 Libertarian nominee Dan Feliciano also are talking about running for the GOP nomination, though neither of them has performed particularly well in the past.
We also can't discount the possibility of a notable third-party candidate such as retired Wall Street banker Bruce Lisman, who says he's been giving it "some thought." And despite Pollina's apparent interest in promoting unity on the left, the Progressives could also run a candidate in the general election again, though they haven't done so for the last three gubernatorial contests.
Right now, the entire field on both sides is very much up for grabs, though Democrats will be waiting on Welch while Republicans want to see what Scott does. Regardless of who the nominees are, Democrats will be favored next year, but despite its liberal reputation, Vermont is unpredictable enough to make this race worth watching.
For all of our posts in the Daily Kos Great Mentioner series, click here.