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Will There Be A 'Trump Factor' In Vermont's GOP Gubernatorial Race?

Angela Evancie VPR
Toby Talbot AP
Republican gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov Phil Scott, left, and Bruce Lisman have different views concerning their party's presumptive presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

Vermont's two Republican gubernatorial candidates, Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman, have different views concerning their party's presumptive presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Could these differences emerge as a factor in the GOP race for governor?

There's no doubt about how Lt. Gov. Phil Scott feels about Donald Trump. He doesn't like him at all, and he says he’s concerned about where Trump will lead this country if he becomes president.

“I'm really looking for a leader that will pull people together and unite us rather than divide us,” Scott said in an interview with VPR in April. “And I think he does just the opposite. He incites that fear and anger in people and he's good at it. He pushes all the right buttons."

And Scott says Trump doesn't have the right temperament to be president.

“Somebody that is acting like a child, somebody that isn't in control of their emotions, in that respect, I don't think deserves to be president." 

Former businessman Bruce Lisman, who is also seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination, says he's on the fence about supporting Trump and will likely make a decision just before next week's Republican convention.

Lisman says he strongly disagrees with some of Trump's positions. But Lisman also says Trump has been able to recognize that many people in this country are fed up with the current political system.

“There are some things he has said that I find repulsive. I don't believe in separating people by religion. I don't believe in calling people names,” Lisman says. “But the other thing is that he has appealed clearly to some kind of need in our country."

And Lisman is convinced that the same dissatisfaction with the political status quo nationally is also present in Vermont.

"What I do hear and I've been hearing it for a while is, ‘This government isn't listening to me and they continue to experiment on us and they continue to do things that I don't understand,’” Lisman says. “And the chorus that says, ‘They aren't listening to me’ is as real here as it is, I think in other states.”

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis expects between 25,000 and 30,000 people will vote in the Republican primary on August 9.

He notes that Trump won the Vermont presidential primary in March and received roughly 20,000 votes, but he doesn't think all of the people who voted for Trump will necessarily support Lisman.

"Some of the areas where Trump did best were those areas that are facing the most economic challenges, such as the Northeast Kingdom, and Rutland and Bennington counties,” Davis says. “But we also know that Phil Scott tends to be very popular [around] the state, especially among base Republicans.”

Davis says the top goal for many Vermont Republicans in 2016 is to win the governor's race, and he thinks that reality favors Scott.

“Bruce Lisman's challenge is to get people who have come to know Phil Scott over the many years he's held office, and who think he's a winner, to abandon him for a first-time candidate,” Davis says.

Davis notes that two thirds of the people who participated in Vermont's Republican presidential primary voted for a GOP candidate other than Trump. 

That's another reason why Davis doesn't expect that there will be a big Trump factor in the gubernatorial primary race.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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