Vermont Primary Previews
Governor (Republican Defense, Incumbent Running)
Candidates: James Ehlers, Christine Hallquist, Brenda Siegel, Ethan Sonneborn, John Rodgers (write-in)
Overview: Believe it or not, despite the solid blue tendencies of Vermont on a national level, the state does have a Republican Governor in Phil Scott. 5 candidates are running on the Democratic side, and most have a solid area of support to tap into. Christine Hallquist, the former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative who would be the country’s first transgender major party gubernatorial nominee, is considered the favorite in the race. Like most candidates in this race she is running on the left side of the party. She has the strongest name recognition of any candidate on both sides of the gubernatorial race, with the exception of Scott. She also has a strong campaign staff that includes the former Coordinated Campaign Director of the Vermont Democratic Party. The party is officially neutral in the race, but it’s fairly clear their preference would be Hallquist, as she is seen as the strongest general election candidate. As a result, Hallquist is expected to perform well pretty much everywhere, although she might not run away with that many of Vermont’s 14 counties. Her top rival is James Ehlers, who has runs a conservation group and is running on a very left-wing platform on economic issues. Ehlers will have some Bernie Sanders supporter backing, but he has faced criticism for past social media posts which paint him as much more conservatism than he has portrayed himself in the campaign. Ehlers will need to run up the score in rural towns to have a good chance in this race. Brenda Siegel is the third major candidate in the race, but she is really running behind the others right now. However, she appears to be performing well in her home county (as well as my home county), Southeastern Windham County, which borders Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This is notable because Windham County, while small, is one of the most Democratic counties in the country, which means it probably will represent a no insignificant percentage of the Democratic primary vote. However, Siegel needs probably 70% of the vote in the county to even stay competitive, and although I do think she wins based on the amount of signs I’ve seen in my town, I’m not sure she’ll quite reach that number. Meanwhile, we now move up to the Northeast kingdom region for a different niche. Up there, there is a grassroots effort being formed to make Democratic State Senator John Rodgers the nominee through a write-in campaign. Rodgers represents Essex and Orleans Counties in the Senate, two of the three counties that swung most heavily to Trump in Vermont, with Essex being the only county Trump won. Rodgers has held his seat without ever facing significant opposition due to his conservative views, especially on gun issues, where he is significantly to the right of Phil Scott. This gun issue is why he was recruited, as Rodgers was viewed as a suitable general election opponent to Scott by gun rights activists. However, Rodgers isn’t doing all that much campaigning himself, and will get little support in the more populated areas of the state. The final candidate is a high school student in Ethan Sonneborn, who has participated in debates and portrayed himself in a very serious way, but probably won’t take a significant amount of votes due to the age concerns that will inevitably arise. The election will end up probably coming down to Chittenden County, which represents 25% of the state’s population and includes Burlington, the largest city in the state. Hallquist is probably the favorite to win Chittenden given her establishment backing, but Ehlers has a chance given his residence in Chittenden County and the progressive tendencies of parts of Burlington, the city which gave Bernie Sanders a start in politics. If Ehlers wins Chittenden, the race could still be on, but if Hallquist wins, it’s probably over.
Prediction: Christine Hallquist wins with 50% of the vote.
Candidates: Phil Scott (incumbent), Keith Stern
Overview: Phil Scott was not expected to be vulnerable a few months ago, when he had one of the highest approval ratings among Governors in the country. However, he has really fallen in recent weeks due to significant backlash against gun control legislation which he signed in response to the Parkland shooting. Vermont is a liberal state, but it remains very conservative on guns, due to the rural nature of pretty much everywhere in the state except Burlington. Keith Stern was already running a minor campaign against Scott before the gun control laws were signed, but started to gain massive rural support after that happened. Stern could very well win several rural counties, especially those where John Rodgers performs well on the Democratic side. However, he does face several problems. His name recognition is poor, with 72% answering that they didn’t know who he was in a recent survey. Additionally, the presence of Rodgers on the Democratic side could take away valuable votes which could have made a difference. Finally, Stern has had some poor performances in debates against Scott, with the Governor frequently correcting Stern about the actual powers of the office. Additionally, Scott has understood the very real threat this primary could pose, and has spent a decent amount of money from outside PACs on primary advertising. He is at 41% approval among Republicans, which is a very bad number to have, and that means Stern could win just through the anti-Scott vote. However, Scott will have better support in less rural areas in the state, and with that in mind, I think he survives through strong support in the larger towns of Burlington, Montpelier, and Brattleboro.
Prediction: Phil Scott wins with 60% of the vote.
US Senate (Independent/Democratic Defense, Incumbent Running)
Candidates: Bernie Sanders (incumbent), Folasade Adeluola
Overview: Despite sitting in the Senate as an independent, Bernie Sanders has run in the Democratic primary for years, usually winning by a wide margin and then declining the nomination to instead run as an independent. He faces just minor opposition this year from Folasade Adeluola, a former Hillary Clinton campaign member from Indiana who established residence to run a protest campaign against Sanders, saying he divided the Democratic and allowed a path to victory for Donald Trump. Clinton received just 13% in Vermont, and I highly doubt that Adeluola does better than that.
Prediction: Bernie Sanders wins with 90% of the vote.
Candidates: Roque De La Fuente, H. Brooke Paige, Jasdeep Pannu, Lawrence Zupan
Overview: This primary might be the weirdest on the ballot today, with four candidates who all aren’t running serious campaigns and haven’t raised any money. Roque De La Fuente is running for Senate in over a dozen states in Republican primaries and if he does win one this could be it. The only thing that will hurt him here is that he is listed on the ballot as being from San Diego, while all the other candidates have Vermont towns listed. H. Brooke Paige is a perennial candidate and former Democrat running for pretty much every possible statewide office, so he will be hurt by the fact that his name appears on the ballot six times, which makes him seem not serious to even people who are unaware of the candidates when they go to vote. Jasdeep Pannu, an attorney from the Burlington area, has campaigned a bit but is very clearly running on a left-wing platform in many areas, even advocating abolishing the Drug Enforcement Agency. Pannu also received some negative press after missing a court date where he was supposed to support clients in order to appear on a radio show. That leaves one final candidate in Lawrence Zupan. Zupan is running more as a traditional establishment conservative, making him the favorite among people who researched the ballot before voting. However, with not many Senate candidates advertising and many voter turning out just to reelect Phil Scott, that number could be surprisingly low. The other potential wrinkle in the race is the possibility that many moderate Republicans choose to write in Bernie Sanders instead, and I don’t think it’s entirely possible that he wins the Republican primary. It’s anyone’s game, but Zupan should be ever so slightly favored
Prediction: Lawrence Zupan wins with 27% of the vote.
US House At-Large (Democratic Defense, Incumbent Running)
Candidates: Peter Welch (incumbent), Daniel Freilich, Benjamin Mitchell
Overview: Peter Welch is a fairly progressive Representative, but still faces two challenges from the left, both more or less over the issue of corporate special interest donations. Daniel Freilich’s challenge is the stronger one of the two, as he has raised a bit of money for his campaign and does have a decent amount of support from strong Bernie Sanders supporters. He also received a slight boost when Benjamin Mitchell dropped out and endorsed him at the end of a debate However, Welch did endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016, which should help him hold on in this race. I honestly don’t have a lot to write about this. Low turnout could help Freilich, but Welch isn’t incredibly unpopular so it still seems unlikely for Freilich to win.
Prediction: Peter Welch wins with 65% of the vote.
Candidates: H. Brooke Paige, Anya Tynio
Overview: Anything could happen here in a race where neither candidate has really been able to fundraise much in a deep blue state. We talked about H. Brooke Paige’s candidacy in multiple statewide races earlier, which will probably make people take Anya Tynio more seriously when they go to vote. Tynio is a 25-year old first time candidate, and though she’ll probably fail to defeat the Democratic candidate in 2018, she could end up being a major figure in Vermont Republican politics in the future.
Prediction: Anya Tynio wins with 70% of the vote.