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Gov. Scott Files To Run For Reelection

Gov. Phil Scott giving his inaugural address in 2019.
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
Times Argus File
Gov. Phil Scott, pictured here at his inaugural address in 2019, has filed to run for reelection.

Updated 3:23 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott has filed to run for reelection, but the two-term Republican said in an email to supporters Thursday morning that the 2020 race “will not be a normal campaign.”

Scott, who faced a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday to file his candidacy with the secretary of state, made the reelection announcement in an email and also on social media.

While Scott said he’ll seek a third term in office, he said he won’t allow the race to distract him from his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As our state and nation continue to navigate a once-in-a-century challenge, Vermonters need and deserve a full-time governor who is focused on leading Vermont through the public health and economic crisis COVID-19 has created,” Scott said in an email. “This means, until the state of emergency is over, I won’t have a campaign staff or office, be raising money, or participating in normal campaign events.”

Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science Middlebury College, said Thursday that Scott’s announcement raises an important question.

“What about debates?” Davis said. “Will he participate in debates with other candidates, forums and so forth?”

Davis’ question does not have a clear answer right now.

Scott’s 2018 campaign manager, Brittney Wilson, did not respond to a media inquiry Thursday. When asked to whom reporters should direct campaign-related inquiries, Scott’s communications director, Rebecca Kelley, said there is no campaign staff to refer reporters to.

“Other than the governor, there isn’t a campaign spokesperson at this time,” Kelley wrote Thursday.

Scott was not available for comment Thursday.

John Klar, one of three candidates challenging Scott in the Republican primary, said he’s worried Scott will use the COVID-19 crisis to evade the debates that he said are cornerstones of the democratic process.

"Other than the governor, there isn't a campaign spokesperson at this time," - Rebecca Kelley, Communications Director for the Governor's Office

“The economy just can’t be put on hold, and I want to talk about those issues. And what the governor’s announcement shows to me is he wishes to avoid debates with me in the primary, and he sets the ground rules so he doesn’t have to participate,” Klar said. “He wants to rest on his laurels for two months on the COVID response, and I’d like to ask questions about not just his past there but his economic past as well.”

Democrats are raising concerns about Scott’s plans for a non-traditional campaign as well. Pat Winburn, one of three Democrats vying for the chance to challenge Scott in the general election, said he suspects Scott has ulterior motives for not wanting to engage in “normal campaign events.”

“He’s done a reasonable job with the coronavirus, but I think if he has to talk about his record, of vetoing family leave, of (the) $15 minimum wage veto … if he has to expose his record and debate about it, I think that would reveal a different side of Phil Scott, so I’m guessing that that’s his strategy,” Winburn said.

Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Terje Anderson said the long-term threat posed by COVID-19 means the state of emergency to which Scott has linked his campaign activities could last through the 2020 election cycle.

“He could well hide behind that until November. I hope he doesn’t,” Anderson said. “I think the tradition is we have debates that are open, that candidates come and participate and get challenged by the media, get challenged by their opponents, so hopefully, at the very least, after the primary we expect to see him out there engaging in debate … so it’s not just the halo of COVID he’s able to wrap himself in and [in doing so] avoid some of these harder questions.”

Kevin Ellis, a former Statehouse lobbyist who’s advised several previous campaigns, said Scott appears to be adopting a “classic Rose Garden strategy to protect your lead and don’t make any mistakes.”

“And if you’re not out and about, being accessible in debates and to the press and in town halls, you’re not going to make any mistakes,” Ellis said.

Scott said in his reelection announcement that “the least favorite part of my experience in public service has been the politics.” And Ellis said he takes the governor at his word.

"If you're not out and about, being accessible in debates and to the press and in town halls, you're not going to make any mistakes." - Kevin Ellis, former Statehouse lobbyist

Ellis, however, said he’s skeptical that Scott doesn’t have any political professionals assisting with his campaign, at least on a volunteer basis. As of the last campaign finance disclosure on March 15, Scott had raised about $50,000 toward his reelection bid. The disclosure shows that he was accepting donations as recently as March 12 - the day before he declared a state of emergency in Vermont due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bulk of Scott’s campaign expenditures so far have gone to a company called Optimus Consulting.

Even if Scott doesn’t field a campaign apparatus himself, there will likely be plenty of campaign material going out to voters on his behalf. A super PAC bankrolled by the Republican Governor’s Association spent nearly $4 million on Scott’s first two runs for governor. The PAC, called A Stronger Vermont, recently funded an online reelection ad on Scott’s behalf during this cycle.

CORRECTION: This story previously undercounted the number of candidates challenging Scott in the Republican primary.

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