Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Explore our coverage of government and politics.

GOP Hits Economy, Hopes For Gains

With just days to go before Election Day, Republican House and Senate candidates remain focused on an economic message in the hope they can snatch a handful of seats from Democrats.

“I’m thinking Franklin, Washington and Rutland (counties). I think those are the strong spots,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia. “We have a sleeper candidate in Orange. He may surprise some people.”

The GOP stands a smaller chance of grabbing a seat in Chittenden County, where Republican challenger Joy Limoge faces the “toughest uphill battle of the bunch,” Benning said.

But even a single gain will mean progress for the Republican Party, which holds just seven of the 30 seats.

“I will be happy if we gain one seat,” Benning said. “It means that the Republican Party is moving in the right direction. My thought process now is that we have three strong possibilities and two maybes.”

Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, said races will be competitive in Washington, Rutland, Franklin and Orange counties. He said Democrats believe they can retain all of their holdings.

“Pickups, frankly, would be pretty tough,” Baruth said. “Last election we expanded pretty much to the limits of what we could reasonably hope for.”

In Rutland County, most observers believe Republican Sens. Kevin Mullin and Peg Flory will return to the Legislature. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Eldred French may have more trouble. He was appointed by Shumlin to replace former Democratic Sen. Bill Carris, who resigned for health reasons after the 2012 elections but before the biennium began.

French, a former House member, lost his re-election bid in 2012 in a head-to-head faceoff with Republican Dennis Devereux after his House district was consolidated with another. Benning said the “strong Republican-oriented district” bodes well for Republican Brian Collamore, a longtime local radio host in Rutland. Perhaps muddying the waters for Republicans is the candidacy of the former senator’s son, Democrat William Tracy Carris, who has outspent his fellow candidates by a wide margin and gained several high-profile Democratic endorsements .

In Franklin County, Republican Sen. Norm McAllister is seeking re-election. Democratic Sen. Don Collins, who edged out Republican Dustin Degree by just 35 votes in 2012, is not seeking re-election. Instead, former Democratic Sen. Sara Kittell, who did not seek re-election in 2012, is looking to return to the chamber.

Degree is back, too, and Republicans are hopeful he can join McAllistair and turn the district red.

“Franklin is a situation where you have somebody who lost by a very narrow margin,” Benning said.

In the Washington County race, the GOP is most hopeful that Republican Pat McDonald, a former House member and official in the administration of former Gov. James Douglas, can unseat either Democratic Sen. Ann Cummings or Progressive/Democratic Sen. Anthony Pollina. Longtime Republican Sen. William Doyle cruised to re-election in 2012 after tallying the most votes, followed by Cummings and then Pollina.

“In Washington you have somebody who is very well known, very well respected, and has been experienced in government for quite some time,” Benning said.

For the GOP, knocking out Pollina is perhaps its best chance for gaining ground in Washington County. McDonald has campaigned on pocketbook issues that are closest to Doyle and most contrary to Pollina’s positions. She has promised to focus on the state’s low student-teacher ratio and take a serious look at school consolidation as a way to address Vermonters’ frustration with rising property taxes.

Republican Dexter Lefavour and Progressive/Democrat Sandy Gaffney round out the six-way race for the three-seat district. Lefavour bases his campaign on a belief that state government is detached from the typical Vermonter and his vow to serve the people, not lobbyists or the interests of political parties. He also believes the state should be helping businesses more.

Gaffney’s message is also a populist one, informed in part by her advocacy on behalf of homeowners in a Berlin mobile home park that was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

In Orange County, Democratic Sen. Mark MacDonald is looking to fend off Republican challenger Bob Frenier. Frenier, too, is hoping to tap into Vermonters’ angst over property taxes and a proposed single payer health care system that so far has no funding plan. Frenier has been insistent that Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin’s health care proposal will sink small businesses.

Benning said Shumlin’s approval rating, at just 45 percent according to the most recent polling, leaves him vulnerable, which could drag down other Democratic candidates. 

“I think there’s a lot of issues that are resonating. First and foremost I think that the governor’s situation is very susceptible,” he said.

But Republican gubernatorial nominee Scott Milne has not shown in polling data that he can provide strong coattails for fellow Republicans to hold on to. Still, voters’ apparent disgust with rising property taxes and a job situation that remains “tenuous,” Benning said, will help Republicans.

“Throw all those factors in and you have a perfect storm,” he said.

Baruth said an under-reported aspect of the mid-term election is “how few Senate seats are really being challenged.” While acknowledging the three or four races where the GOP has hope, he said across the rest of there state there is “not a strong game going on.”

“The recruiting that we did in Rutland and Franklin was phenomenal,” he said. “I really think we have a very good chance of holding those two seats, which I think are the Republican’s top hopes for a pickup.”

“Given the recruiting we did and given how few counties the Republicans are challenging, it’s left us the ability to play a very strong ground gain in those races,” Baruth added. “I am going to say that we hold our numbers and if we do that’s a very good day’s work.”

The GOP sees potential for gains in the House, too, but is setting modest expectations for its quest to build on the 45 seats that they currently hold.

“If we pick up one seat we’re moving in the right direction,” said House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton. “What I’m facing is seven people that are not returning. For me just to stay at 45 I’ve got to win seven seats.”

“I feel that we have some momentum to our back this time. The message that people are telling us, that I’m hearing everywhere I go is, ‘We can’t afford to live here. Property taxes are too high,’” he added. “Our candidates are hearing that and feeling that.”

In the Addison 4 district, which includes Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro, Democratic Reps. Michael Fisher and David Sharpe, the chairman of the House Health Care Committee and vice chairman of House Ways and Means, respectively, are facing strong challengers. Republicans Fred Baser and Valerie Mullin could post an upset.

“We are definitely going to give people in that district a choice this election. Both (Republicans) have worked extremely hard,” Turner said.

Democratic Rep. Sarah Buxton, who represents Royalton and Tunbridge in Windsor-Orange 1, remains vulnerable in the more conservative district. She faces former Republican Rep. David Ainsworth, whom she beat in 2010 by a single vote. Buxton was able to retain the seat in 2012 by a small margin.

In the Franklin 3-1 district, Turner said there are high hopes for Corey Parent to unseat either Rep. Kathy Keenan or, more likely, according to Turner, Rep. Mike McCarthy.

“I believe the most vulnerable would be Mike McCarthy,” he said.

In Burlington’s Chittenden 6-1 district, representing part of Burlington, incumbent Republican Rep. Kurt Wright has been campaigning with fellow Republican Michael Ly. The GOP sees the potential to oust Democratic Rep. Joanna Cole.

“I do believe that Michael has done everything he possibly can. Kurt’s been very helpful. We’ve helped him as much as we can in terms of resources, tools more than money,” Turner said.

Turner said there are a handful of other hopeful races, including in Manchester, Enosburgh and Westford.

Republican candidates have been boosted by a $143,000 television ad buy by the national group Republican State Leadership Committee. The group, which seeks to promote Republican candidates in state legislatures around the country, has spent more than $330,000 on television and online ads, as well as mailings promoting Republican candidates in Vermont.

This story originally appeared in the Rutland Herald on Nov. 2, 2014.

Neal is a a reporter for the Vermont Press Bureau. He also files reports for Vermont Public Radio.
Latest Stories