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VT Republican LG candidate Joe Benning discusses primary win and general election campaign

Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Joe Benning in front of the Vermont Statehouse in a campaign photo
Joe Benning for Lieutenant Governor
Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Joe Benning in front of the Vermont Statehouse in a campaign photo

State Senator Joe Benning has been a familiar face in the Vermont Statehouse for 12 years, twice serving as minority leader. Among his committee work, the trial lawyer from Lyndonville has chaired the Senate Ethics Committee, the Committee on Institutions and Joint Committee on Judicial Rules.

Earlier this month he won the Republican primary for lieutenant governor and will run against Democrat David Zuckerman, who previously held that position from 2017 until January 2021.

Shortly after his primary win, Benning talked about the upcoming general election with WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley, saying he won because he was the most qualified of the two GOP candidates.

The role of the lieutenant governor consists of three basic functions. One is you moderate the Senate. I've been a town moderator for 10 years. I've been the past chair of Vermont's Human Rights Commission. I've chaired the Lyndonville Rotary Club and I've chaired the Lyndon State College Foundation. So I know how to run a meeting. Second component is that you are responsible as one of a committee of three to appoint all the legislators in the Senate to their various committee roles. And I know all the players. I've been there 10, ah, 12 years. So I know who works well together and who doesn't. Mr. Thayer had none of that experience at all. And then finally the role requires you to step into the shoes of the governor should the governor not be able to continue. And I have worked with Phil Scott and his team for 12 years now advancing legislation that he's been pushing forward. I know all of his players on both his campaign team and his administrative team. I've also campaigned with him. I think in the end folks recognize that I had better qualifications.

Joe, you will now be running against a person who has held the seat of lieutenant governor in the past. How does that affect your campaign when both of you have been in the Senate, one of you has already held the seat that you're now trying to attain?

Yup. Let's go back to those three components.


David (Zuckerman) did hold the gavel in the Senate. But I've been there 12 straight years listening to three different lieutenant governor's. I will give to David a slight edge because he has actually held the gavel. David hasn't been there for two years. We have been through COVID together, the folks that have been there over the last two years, so I believe I have a slight edge on him in knowing the players and how they fit together and how things have been going for us all. But most importantly, that third role where you step into the governor's shoes should something happen to the governor. David when he was lieutenant governor it was made clear he was not welcome in the Scott administration. Phil Scott has personally endorsed me. I know his team and I've worked with his team. David has definitely not and in fact has often worked against that team. So I believe I have a clear edge. Now there's a host of other issues that are out there, one of which is that David has clearly indicated his desire to be governor. To me, that's the last thing that the Senate needs right now. It needs stability as we come out of COVID-19. And I'm making a promise that if I get elected the first time, I'm going to take a second stab at it and hopefully that will give the institution some stability.

When you take a look at the campaign coming up for the general election do you expect it to be challenging?

Huh, well that's an understatement! He has way more name recognition than I do at the moment. He has roughly $200,000 in the bank to my $25,000 in the bank. He has the ground game behind him of the Bernie Sanders organization. And so I've got him right where I want him! How's that?

But you also have the support of Governor Scott and that's got to mean something.

I do believe it does. And you know I'm being humorous with this because I intend to have some humor on the campaign trail about all of this. I don't have any misunderstanding of the mountain I'm looking at having to climb. I do believe at the end of the day that the Vermont voting demographic would much prefer a moderate. And I've always envisioned David as being on the extreme left side of the political equation. That's not to disparage him. That's just to say in point of fact that the governor who has been so popular right now has been a definite middle-of-the-roader. I think I fit that much better than David does. And I hope to gather forces in the Vermont voting demographic who appreciated what Phil Scott has done and pull them to my camp.

Official results from the August 9th primary show Joe Benning won the Republican primary against Gregory Thayer 48 to 40 percent. In the Democratic primary David Zuckerman outpaced his closest competitor 42 to 37 percent. Two others each received less than 10 percent. The seat is opening up because first-term Democrat Molly Gray launched an unsuccessful run for Congress.

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