Progressive Party leaders say focus is on legislative racesToby Talbot / AP File Photo
Progressive candidate for governor Martha Abbott watches the initial certification of the results of the August primary Tuesday in Montpelier.
MONTPELIER — Leaders of Vermont’s Progressive Party said Friday they may not actively support Danby-based environmental activist Annette Smith for governor, even if she emerges from a primary recount as the party’s nominee.
Morgan Daybell, executive director of the Progressives, and Chairwoman Martha Abbott said the party had decided earlier this year to focus on legislative races.
Abbott was declared the winner in the Aug. 28 Progressive gubernatorial primary over Smith and then withdrew her candidacy, saying the party wants to defer to Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. But Smith has been granted a recount — which, if she emerges with a victory, would make her the party’s nominee.
Abbott noted there’s a difference between winning the Progressive nomination in a primary and getting the party’s endorsement, which is given by its state committee. The committee meets four times a year and had its last scheduled meeting for 2012 in August. Abbott said she doubted a new meeting would be scheduled before the November election to consider an endorsement for Smith.
Daybell said Friday he saw a Smith primary victory as likely but added that he does not expect she’ll attract a groundswell of support from party leaders and activists.
He was among those pointing to the fact that Smith has not been involved in Progressive politics. “She never reached out to us at all” to seek the party’s backing before the primary.
Smith said before the primary she did not consider herself a candidate and believed that actively pursuing the nomination could jeopardize the nonprofit tax status of the group she heads, Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
Supporters of her group’s positions wanted to get her into gubernatorial debates to challenge Shumlin on some of his environmental views, particularly his support for putting large wind power turbines on Vermont mountaintops. They launched a write-in campaign in hopes of getting Smith the Progressive nomination.
State Sen. Anthony Pollina, who has run multiple times as a Progressive for statewide office and now represents Washington County in the Senate under three party banners — Progressive, Democratic and Working Family — agreed with Daybell that longtime Progressives are unlikely to rally to Smith’s cause.
He cited her reticence about actively campaigning in the primary and uncertainty about how hard she would campaign for governor. “She’ll have to decide how serious a candidate she wants to be,” Pollina said. “Most are not interested in spending a lot of time and energy on someone who’s not a serious candidate.”
Smith said she was still studying the legal issues around being a candidate for office and running a nonprofit group that is not supposed to endorse political candidates. But she said if the recount shows her to be the winner of the primary, she likely will mount a general election campaign.
She said she would feel obligated to “follow through with the wishes of all the people who’ve done the work to write me in.”
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