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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

In Gov. Race, Scott Has Almost Unanimous Support From GOP Lawmakers

Peter Hirschfeld
Of the 59 Republican lawmakers in Montpelier, 54 have now endorsed Lt. Gov. Phil Scott's candidacy for governor.

In the two-person battle for the Republican nomination for governor, GOP lawmakers are closing ranks behind Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. And as the lieutenant governor puts some distance between himself and apparent presidential nominee Donald Trump, Scott is looking to strengthen bonds with fellow Republicans here at home. 

It’s tense times in the Statehouse these days, as lawmakers strain to cut deals in the closing days of the session. But on Thursday morning in the Cedar Creek room, Phil Scott cracked jokes and exchanged handshakes with the dozens of lawmakers who interrupted their legislative schedules to publicly endorse his gubernatorial candidacy.

“This means more to me than any of you will ever realize, so thank you very much for that,” Scott said.

Of the 59 Republican lawmakers in Montpelier, 54 have now endorsed Scott, despite the fact that he faces a primary battle against former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman.

Franklin County Sen. Dustin Degree was an aide to the state’s last Republican governor, James Douglas. Degree says his insights into the work of the executive branch make his endorsement an easy choice.

“I’ve seen firsthand the dedication, the integrity and temperament it takes to be our governor, and I stand before you today to tell you Phil Scott has all three,” Degree says.

The endorsements come a day after Scott said he would not be voting in the general election for apparent GOP nominee Donald Trump, despite the fact that he won the support of over 30 percent of primary voters in Vermont

Lawmakers apparently don’t think Scott’s distaste for the man who will be at the top of the GOP ballot this November will hurt him with their base. Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright summed up a major reason for his support for Scott in one word: “electability.”

Wright says Scott’s vote totals in recent elections – he won 62 percent of the vote in 2014 – demonstrate his appeal across party lines.

“Only Phil in the general election will be able to bring people together from across the political spectrum to deliver a win,” Wright says. 

Lisman’s campaign issued a written statement in response to the endorsements, saying they’re not that surprising and “frankly not that important.” 

Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, also says the endorsements aren’t a surprise. But he says they underscore the steepness of the political hill Lisman will have to climb. 

Davis says Lisman’s going to have a tough time cutting into Scott’s base.

“If Lisman can convince some independent voters who perhaps might not have voted in Republican primaries in the past that he’s their man, then he can perhaps have a somewhat lager electorate and perhaps do a little bit better,” Davis says.

Conor Casey, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, says that, as the minority party, House and Senate Republicans have been a rudderless ship in Montpelier. And for all Scott’s talk about lowering state spending, Conor says Scott, like his GOP colleagues, remains devoid of specifics.

“I haven’t heard him offer any solutions on how he would cut $48 million from the budget, not one service he would slash,” Casey says.

Primary voters head to the polls on Aug. 9.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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