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In A Tight Race For Governor, Can Sue Minter Distance Herself From Peter Shumlin?

Taylor Dobbs
VPR file
While GOP ads suggest that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter will continue Gov. Peter Shumlin's legacy, Minter is stressing the differences between herself and Shumlin, and associating herself with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has endorsed her.

One key Republican strategy in the final stretch of Vermont’s tight gubernatorial race is to try to link Democratic candidate Sue Minter with the policies of outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin. But Minter says her agenda is very different from Shumlin's.

And she's hoping that Sen. Bernie Sanders' endorsement of her campaign will help highlight those differences.

There's no question that the Republicans would like the 2016 gubernatorial race to be a referendum on the performance of three-term Gov. Peter Shumlin.

They want to do this because Shumlin has the highest disapproval rating of any elected statewide official in Vermont.

The Republican Governors' Association is running a TV spot that attempts to link Democratic candidate Sue Minter with Shumlin. The ad uses two bobblehead dolls — one representing Shumlin and the other depicting Minter — to get their message across.

“It's no secret Sue Minter's mentor is Peter Shumlin,” the ad’s voiceover says. “We can't afford two more years of Sue Minter and her mentor Peter Shumlin." 

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Phil Scott thinks the basic message of the ad is accurate and fair.

“Everything that I've heard from Sue is about spending more money, finding other ways of taxing, whether it's a tax on services or a carbon tax or this cap and trade type of scheme,” Scott says. “It just sounds like we're spending more money, and so I think it will be more of the same." 

"Everything that I've heard from Sue [Minter] is about spending more money, finding other ways of taxing." - Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Minter strongly disagrees. She says the RGA is spending an enormous amount of money trying to persuade Vermont voters of something that simply isn't true.

“Irrespective of what Phil Scott or the $2 million ads in Koch brother-funded Republican Governors Association says about me, I am my own person,” Minter says. “I have a very independent record of accomplishments that I think people should and will judge me on, and I have my own agenda." 

Minter says her economic development policies and her energy reduction plans are more innovative than those of the Shumlin administration.

And, unlike the current governor, Minter says she supports universal background checks for all gun sales in the state. She thinks most Vermonters agree with her position.

"They know that the Second Amendment and gun safety can go hand in hand, and they're ready for that change here in Vermont,” she says.

"I have a very independent record of accomplishments that I think people should and will judge me on, and I have my own agenda." - Sue Minter

"Background checks for all guns, that is certainly nothing that the current administration has been interested in."

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says it's difficult to link Minter to the most unpopular policies of the Shumlin administration. Davis says Minter is best known for her work as transportation secretary under Shumlin.

“The most controversial aspects of Shumlin's administration, in my mind, have to do with health care and energy policy,” Davis says. “And she can say, ‘These aren't the issues that I was involved with,’ and she can say that she was working on something [where] the Shumlin administration's performance was generally viewed very highly."

Davis says the candidate that Minter does want to be linked to is Sen. Bernie Sanders. Recently, Sanders endorsed Minter and the rest of the Democratic slate of statewide candidates.

This past weekend, Sanders held get-out-the-vote rallies with these candidates in various parts of the state.

“Minter now mentions Sanders in some of her speeches, and from everything I've seen Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in Vermont [at] this time,” Davis says. “And Sue Minter, by trying to associate herself with Sanders, hopes that some of the Sanders popularity will rub off on her." 

Davis says it's clear that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is going to win Vermont. The big question, according to Davis, is whether Sanders can convince a large number of the Clinton supporters to also cast a vote for Sue Minter.

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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