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Vermont Primary Results Will Pit Incumbent Against Current Lieutenant Governor For State’s Top Job

Vermont Governor Phil Scott (left) and Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman will run against each other in the 2020 gubernatorial race
File photos Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Governor Phil Scott (left) and Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman will run against each other in the 2020 gubernatorial race

The Republican and Democratic candidates for Vermont governor are now set after Tuesday’s primary —  and the governor and lieutenant governor will go head-to-head in November.
Republican Governor Phil Scott easily defeated four challengers, taking 72 percent of GOP votes. His closest competitor John Klar received 21 percent.  Seeking a third term, Scott won despite not campaigning, saying he needed to focus on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis says the incumbent’s victory is no surprise.  “Governor Scott has been opposed by very conservative candidates in just  about every primary he’s won. They usually get about 20, maybe 25, percent of the vote so what we saw last night was typical of what’s been happening throughout Phil Scott’s career.”

Scott has not hired any campaign staff yet and emails to his campaign Wednesday morning were not immediately answered. He released a statement in print and via a Facebook video Tuesday night thanking his supporters for their confidence and support.  “My reasons for serving haven't changed since I first decided to run for governor. I ran for governor four years ago because I knew we could do more to help people. I knew we needed someone to focus like a laser on growing the economy, making Vermont more affordable, protecting the most vulnerable, and restoring civility and decency to our politics.  This year has changed almost everything about our lives. But for me, these principles remain.  Moving forward, I’ll do my very best to provide you with a steady hand on the wheel as we navigate these unprecedented times and work tirelessly to emerge stronger as a state.”

Four Democrats sought the nomination for governor: current Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, former state Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, attorney Patrick Winburn and activist Ralph Corbo.  Despite Zuckerman’s 44 to 35 percent win over Holcombe, Professor Davis says the race was closer than most expected when the campaign began.  “A poll that was done back in February showed that only 39 percent of those questioned recognized Rebecca Holcombe’s name. So she worked hard over the last six months and closed a lot of the gap that was likely there between herself and David Zuckerman.  But Zuckerman’s a well-known figure. This is his third time running statewide. He’s been elected twice as Lieutenant Governor, the better known candidate. He had the endorsement of Bernie Sanders which helped. And I don’t think the outcome was a surprise. It was probably a little bit closer than some would have thought back in the winter when both candidates first declared.”

Zuckerman says the state needs a creative vision to bring Vermont out of the pandemic recession.  “People are really struggling out there especially as the federal money is kind of in limbo and folks are trying to put food on their table and pay the rent. And we need to rebuild Vermont. We need to get through this safely and in a healthy way. And we need a creative vision because the governor had it good for four years of a strong economy and coasting along but now it’s going to take more than coasting to get Vermont back on track.”

Zuckerman admits that defeating Scott will be daunting.  “Well I’ve always been the underdog. I was the underdog when I ran for the Senate in 2012. And it’s because of the work I’ve done with Vermonters in their living rooms for 25 years and these issues are important to people. And I think the governor’s done a solid job on COVID. He deserves respect and accolation for that. But at the same time we could’ve been in a better position with better broadband had he been a leader for the last four years making that investment. We could’ve done more around our rural economy and agriculture while tackling the climate crisis with more leadership. It’s going to be hard but I’ve taken on hard challenges before and we’ll see what happens.”

The primary results are unofficial. The Secretary of State’s office will certify the results next week.