Joe Benning on his win in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor
Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning won the Republican primary for lieutenant governor Tuesday.
Benning, a moderate who has denounced Donald Trump, beat out Rutland resident Gregory Thayer, a Christian conservative who organized a bus trip to the "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021.
Benning won the race with 55% of the vote to Thayer's 45%. He'll face Democratic nominee and former lieutenant governor David Zuckerman in the general election.
Vermont Public's Mikaela Lefrak spoke with Benning. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mikaela Lefrak: So how did you celebrate your big win last night?
Sen. Joe Benning: My campaign team and I got together all of the motorcyclists who had joined with us in various parades. And we met at my treasurer’s house last night in Waterbury Center. We had a lovely little gathering of folks who were all very happy to see the end result. I'm glad to say they are all good friends of mine from years back, a lot of whom I've led across the country on motorcycle tours, literally to Alaska and back. We're a good, hardcore group of friends.
Last night was a very interesting night for Vermont's Republican Party. You beat out Gregory Thayer in the primary, who is a strong Trump supporter — even attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. on Jan. 6.
But that breakdown of candidates wasn't quite the case across the board. Gerald Malloy, who's also a staunch conservative and Trump supporter, beat out the more moderate candidate, Christina Nolan in the U.S. Senate Republican primary. And then over in the U.S. House race, Liam Madden, who's a self-proclaimed independent, won that Republican primary.
What do last night's results tell you about the state of Vermont's Republican Party?
Well, there's obviously a lot of division that remains. One of my first objectives is to try to reach back out and say to folks within the party, that even if they didn't vote for me, we still have a lot of things in common, and I'm hoping that at the end of the day they're going to give reconsideration when it comes time to the general election.
I'll also say, however, that the heated contests on the Democratic side had a lot of Republicans picking up the Democratic ballot, and also a lot of independents picking up a Democratic ballot. I know that because I was contacted by several of them, saying they were crossing over, asking me who I would prefer they vote for in my race, because they wanted to know who I would most prefer running against.
But I think you have to figure that into the mix, especially in Chittenden County, where you had that really contested state's attorney's race. There were a lot of Republicans who were concerned about that race as one of their biggest priorities. So at the general election, I envision a much different story about where Republicans are standing. And especially in my race, because there is such a wide division between David Zuckerman and myself.
I'm curious, when those folks would call you up and say, “Who would you rather run against in the general election?” Did you say David Zuckerman?
Yes, I did.
And why? Why were you looking forward to running against him?
Well, for starters, Kitty Toll, Charlie Kimbell and Patricia Preston are more in line with moderate Democrats who are also lined up with moderate Republicans. So running against somebody on the Democratic side who was more of a moderate, with all of the money and the resources that the Democratic machine has, would have been very problematic.
Here, I think that the Democrats and the independents are going to have a much clearer division between the two sides. And I'm optimistic that a few of those blue dog Democrats and independents might actually come my way.
"David and I were actually texting back and forth last night. We have a relationship that is very friendly."Joe Benning
Now, you have worked with David Zuckerman for many years. You are a 12-year veteran of the state Senate, and Zuckerman is of course the former lieutenant governor. What is your relationship like with him now? And what do you expect the tone of this campaign to be moving forward?
Well, it might interest your listeners to know that David and I were actually texting back and forth last night. We have a relationship that is very friendly. We are diametrically opposed to each other on various issues, aligned on some issues.
There was a Facebook posting of the two of us in a parade, I believe it was in Vergennes, that the two of us were together, it was a close up shot, and we were both laughing. And somebody commented on that, saying, “Here's two politicians who have been opposing each other and arguing against each other for a long time. And this picture says a lot about what Vermont politics should be.”
I am optimistic that David and I are going to conduct an election that is fair and clean. I don't believe we're going to get into arguments of the kind that I've seen in other races this time around, which were very unfortunate.
My hope, personally, is that I go through this process with some humor, maintaining civility and integrity, and giving Vermonters an example of how a race can be conducted, and hope to secure their vote.
Zuckerman has a lot of name recognition, having been the lieutenant governor in the past. Also a lot of support built in from this left-leaning state, which does make you something of an underdog in the general election.
What do you think you can offer the state as lieutenant governor that Zuckerman can’t, that should have folks voting for you?
You forgot to mention he's also outraised me 10 to one, so my joke internally is that I got him right where I want him!
The bottom line is this: I personally have worked with Phil Scott, not only in the day-to-day session of the Legislature, but I campaigned with him. I've advanced many pieces of legislation that he has proposed, and I literally have led the effort on several pieces of legislation. And as Senate minority leader, I was working literally with his entire team on a daily basis.
David, on the other hand, has had a very difficult relationship with Phil Scott. He was not welcomed into Phil Scott's cabinet as Phil Scott was in Peter Shumlin’s cabinet. So at that point, I believe I have a great edge on David.
And I'll close out that I have a very strong desire to maintain the institution of the Senate. And that's what this position is all about.