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Vt. politics shifts to campaign mode

MONTPELIER — Doug Hoffer, who is considering another run for state auditor, and T.J. Donovan, who wants to be the next Vermont attorney general, picked up endorsements from the Vermont Democratic Party on Saturday in Randolph.

Donovan’s rival in the Democratic primary for attorney general, incumbent Bill Sorrell, also spoke at the party’s meeting after flying back to Vermont from New York City on Friday, where he raised money for his bid to retain the office he’s held since 1997.

With the Legislature adjourning eight days ago, Vermont’s political scene has smoothly pivoted to campaign mode.

Candidates for state representative and state senator will be knocking on doors in their local districts this summer as they try to drum up enough votes to serve in Montpelier.

And for the six statewide offices and two contested congressional seats, all voters in Vermont will have a say in who is elected in November.

Here’s a look at how those statewide races are shaping up ahead of the June 14 filing deadline, when political hopefuls must make their candidacy official.

Attorney general

The race for state attorney general might be the most interesting of the year, but it’s not a Republican versus Democrat dynamic that gives the race its luster.

Instead, it’s a primary race between two Democratic candidates with deep roots in the Chittenden County Democratic establishment that lends it such an intriguing air.

It’s also a case of an up-and-comer challenging the old guard.

Sorrell, 65, is an incumbent who has held office since he was first appointed by former Gov. Howard Dean in 1997. He has cruised to re-election since.

Sorrell is perceived as vulnerable by some political observers because of losses in federal court, most recently in the case against Entergy, the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The case is under appeal.

Donovan, 38, has been Chittenden County state’s attorney since 2006. (Sorrell also was Chittenden County state’s attorney early in his career).

Since announcing his candidacy in March, Donovan has hired campaign staff, picked up an endorsement from the Vermont Sheriffs’ Association, officially kicked off his campaign Thursday at an event in Burlington, and picked up a state Democratic Party endorsement Saturday.

Sorrell, meanwhile, announced his campaign team Monday. His two senior political advisers, Kate O’Connor and Richard Watts, have worked for Dean, who may be Sorrell’s biggest ally in the Vermont Democratic power structure.

Sorrell has had less of a presence in the media of late, particularly given Donovan’s well-covered campaign kickoff.

But Sorrell said Friday afternoon that his campaign is ratcheting up and he is “busy evenings and weekends here.”

“My formal kickoff here will be towards the end of the month, but my full-time team will be up and running as soon as they finish up their other obligations,” Sorrell said.

Vermont Democratic Party bylaws allow the party to back more than one candidate for one office and Sorrell said he’ll also seek the party’s endorsement.

Sorrell attended a meeting of the Democratic Attorneys General Association in New York City last week that featured appearances by Eliot Spitzer and Alec Baldwin. He wasn’t sure how much money he raised during the trip.

“To tell you the truth I haven’t opened the envelopes, so I don’t know, but we’re on schedule to raise enough money to be competitive,” Sorrell said.

The Republicans have yet to say who will run in the general election against the winner of the Democratic primary.

Sen. Vince Illuzzi, a Republican representing Essex and Orleans counties, said this week he is still considering running for attorney general.

“When you’re in the Legislature there’s really no ability to reach out and talk to people, and I’ve started doing that this week and plan to make a decision in a couple of weeks,” Illuzzi said.

Illuzzi is also considering running for treasurer or auditor.

Illuzzi has been a senator for 32 years but is reluctant to return to the Legislature, where he said it has been a difficult two years.

“It was just not the place I grew up in,” Illuzzi said.

U.S. House

Woodstock police officer and former Hartford selectman Mark Donka plans to challenge three-term Democratic Congressman Rep. Peter Welch.

Donka, like many Republican candidates, plans to make fiscal policy the focal point of his campaign as he tries to take Vermont’s one U.S. House seat from Welch.

“I think we need to stop the runaway deficit, and we can’t keep voting to fund everything,” Donka, 55, said on Friday. “All they’ve been doing is voting to fund more and more programs, so to speak, and we’re spending a lot more than we’re taking in, and it’s unsustainable.”

Donka announced his candidacy through the media in March, but plans to hold a news conference in the next couple weeks to formally launch his campaign.

Donka hasn’t put together a campaign staff yet and said he’s “talking to a few people to see who really wants to do it.”

He’s been doing “a little bit of fundraising” but acknowledges it’s tough.

“That’s the hard part: getting the money,” Donka said. “The easy part’s running.”

Welch was first elected to Congress in 2006 after serving in the Vermont Senate and rising to Senate president pro tem.

Welch’s spokesman, Scott Coriell, said in a written statement that the congressman “looks forward to a vigorous campaign with whomever the Republicans nominate.”

“During his time in the state Legislature and now as Vermont’s representative to Congress, he has built a strong record of bringing people together to make progress for Vermont,” Coriell said.


Rutland City Treasurer Wendy Wilton told the media last week she will run as a Republican candidate for state treasurer.

The office is now occupied by Democrat Beth Pearce, who was appointed treasurer after Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed Treasurer Jeb Spaulding to be administration secretary.

Wilton, who represented Rutland County for one term in the Vermont Senate, plans to make a formal announcement at an event Monday.

Don Schramm, a Progressive who won 7.6 percent of the vote in 2010, also plans to run for treasurer this year.


Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has been coy about whether he will run again, declining repeatedly to say whether he will seek re-election.

But he raised $186,000 in his first six months in office, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, prompting this response from Secretary of State Jim Condos: “He’s a candidate whether he says so or not.”

Sen. Randy Brock, a Franklin County Republican, is running.

Brock did little politicking during the legislative session but has ramped up his campaign lately, which has featured two key ingredients thus far: bears and money.

Brock has aired a television commercial featuring the four-legged mammals and also has enlisted a bear mascot to join him on the campaign trail, both nods to Shumlin’s infamous encounter with bears outside his Montpelier residence.

Brock’s bear mascot has been spotted wearing a shirt that says: “Give the $21 million back to Vermont ratepayers!” The message refers to the flap over a provision in the CVPS-GMP merger deal that overtook the Statehouse this year.

The Progressives don’t plan to field a candidate for governor this year, said Morgan Daybell, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party.

The party plans to put most of its effort into House and Senate races, Daybell said. Like the Democrats, the Progressives were planning to meet Saturday.


Doug Hoffer, who lost to Republican Tom Salmon in the 2010 race for state auditor, is considering taking another crack at Salmon.

Hoffer, a self-employed policy analyst, ran in the Democratic primary two years ago and won endorsements from the Democratic and Progressive parties.

But he couldn’t unseat Salmon, who has been auditor since 2006.

Hoffer said last week that if he won the endorsement from the Democrats at their meeting in Randolph “then I’m likely to run.”

Hoffer received 45 percent of the vote in 2010, Salmon got 52 percent, and a third candidate from the Liberty Union Party, Jerry Levy, won 2.5 percent.

Lieutenant governor

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is finishing his first term in office after serving in the Vermont Senate, and a Democratic rival has yet to emerge.

Jake Perkinson, chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, said discussions about the party’s candidate continue but wouldn’t disclose who is considering running.

Marjorie Power, a Progressive who won 3.5 percent of the vote in 2010, is also planning to run for lieutenant governor, according to Daybell.

Secretary of state

Condos said he will run for re-election and has been walking in parades, going to Democratic events in various counties and gathering the signatures he needs to file for office.

A Republican candidate for secretary of state has not emerged to challenge Condos, who is finishing his first term.

“That hasn’t been announced by anybody,” said Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party. “There are people looking at it.”

Lindley declined to say who those people are.

U.S. Senate

U.S. Senate seats only come up for re-election every six years and this year it’s Sen. Bernard Sanders’ turn.

Sanders, a popular lawmaker with plenty of campaign cash, will be tough to unseat, but Republican John MacGovern is going to give it a shot.

A Windsor Republican with more political experience in Massachusetts than in Vermont, MacGovern announced in March he will take on Sanders.

MacGovern served four terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives during the 1980s but has had less electoral success since moving to Windsor in 1999.

He made three failed bids for the Vermont Senate and lost a 2008 race for the Vermont House.


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