• Contest for governor moves to center stage
    By
     | August 29,2012
     

    BURLINGTON – Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and Republican challenger Randy Brock had their respective primary nominations wrapped up before the voting began Tuesday. But will a third major-party candidate be joining them on debate stages this fall?

    As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, a race for the Progressive gubernatorial nomination between party stalwart Martha Abbott and insurgent write-in candidate Annette Smith was too close to call. But while the race may well draw fewer than 1,000 votes, the result could have an outsized impact on electoral dynamics between now and November.

    “There’s been more awareness already of these issues just with this write-in campaign,” said Stephanie Kaplan, the East Calais resident who launched the effort. “If she actually wins? I think it would give her an even bigger platform.”

    Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, calls herself a reluctant candidate. But supporters of her organization’s platform – she opposes ridgeline wind development, F-35s at the Vermont Air National Guard, and the Public Service Board’s approval of the blockbuster merger of Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service – say they’ve conscripted the Danby resident for public service.

    If Smith does win the nod – and opts to run – she’d make for an interesting twist in what has to date been a relatively unremarkable gubernatorial race.

    Only 533 Vermonters voted in the 2010 Progressive primary. In 2008, the number was 470.

    In addition to anti-big-wind folks, the “Stop the F-35” coalition has thrown in for Smith.

    The group, which numbers several hundred, recently fired off an email to its members urging them to pull a Prog ballot and write-in Smith. The same plea appears on the group’s website.

    Abbott hasn’t committed to running in the general election if she won Tuesday night. She said last week she would announce Tuesday night or Wednesday whether she’ll stay in, or withdraw her name from the general election ballot.

    Shumlin on Tuesday capped his four-day Irene anniversary tour with stops in Moretown, Waitsfield, Northfield and Randolph, where the Democratic incumbent hosted an official commemoration concert.

    Shumlin’s newly minted campaign manager, Alex MacLean, said the campaign would have no comment about Tuesday’s primary results.

    Brock, who has called the governor’s Irene tour a “taxpayer funded campaign junket,” said the passing of primary day will usher in the unofficial beginning of the 2012 gubernatorial campaign.

    He said his operation will ramp up accordingly.

    Since launching his campaign in earnest in May, Brock has spent more time taking potshots at Shumlin than outlining his own vision for the state. Whether deriding the incumbent’s single-payer plan as “Titanic Care,” or blasting the Democrat over a potential reduction in FEMA money, Brock has spent the bulk of his time talking about the person he’s trying to unseat.

    Brock said fine-tuned policy proposals are en route, now that voters are actually watching.

    “I think that the public will become more involved and more interested in the election and the campaign as September starts,” Brock said. “It’s kind of the traditional beginning of campaign season.”

    During a noontime radio interview with former GOP chairman Rob Roper, Brock said he’ll unveil next week the health care proposal he’s been promising since May. In a phone interview later in the afternoon, Brock said he still wasn’t ready to set any firm deadlines for the presentation.

    “It is really in final draft form,” Brock said. “And I’m happy with what we’ve put together.”

    Not long after he shows his cards on health care, Brock said he’ll present to voters a economic development proposal to rival the vision put forth by Shumlin.

    “I think Vermonters are going to demand to see details, so they know there’s a different vision there,” Brock said. “And by doing it now that the campaign season has officially begun, it will have a lot more impact. And those are things we can also debate.”

    Brock spent much of his primary day in Waterbury, where he stopped by the Thatcher Brook Primary School polling station before embarking on a short tour of Waterbury businesses.

    Brock would later board a plane for Tampa, Fla., where he joins Vermont’s other GOP delegates to the Republican National Convention.

    Brock said he’ll be making some asks of his national GOP colleagues this week.

    “I would not say it presents a massive fundraising opportunity,” Brock said. “But there might be people interested in our race because of some of national implications surrounding some of the things that the current administration is trying to do.”

    peter.hirschfeld@ timesargus.com

    peter.hirschfeld@ rutlandherald.com

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