MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin’s surprise announcement Monday that he will not seek re-election throws the 2016 gubernatorial election wide open — and several candidates on both sides of the aisle say they are interested.
A potential surprise candidate emerged Monday when former Shumlin Chief of Staff Bill Lofy told the National Journal that Democratic Congressman Peter Welch “would be the prohibitive favorite” if he were to jump into the race. Welch has served as Vermont’s lone representative in the House since 2006, and has handily won re-election every two years.
Welch Chief of Staff Bob Rogan said Monday that Welch will consider his options and has not ruled out a run for governor.
“It’s likely Congressman Welch will seek re-election to Congress but this news comes as a surprise so he will be taking the time he needs to thoughtfully consider how he can best serve Vermonters,” Rogan said.
Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith made clear after the legislative session ended last month that he wants to be governor. But Smith said at the time that he did not want to run in a primary against Shumlin.
“I was pretty clear that I was not running … a primary against the governor. I was also pretty clear that I was interested in running for statewide office. So, it does change the dynamic,” Smith told reporters Monday.
Smith said he and Shumlin have worked together for years “for years trying to make sure that the state of Vermont could be an even better place than it is now and I think that we all owe a debt to Peter for his great work as governor.” He credited Shumlin for his response to the devastating impact Tropical Storm Irene had on Vermont.
Smith said he will consult with many people before deciding if he will launch a campaign for governor.
“I need to spend some time talking with my family first and foremost. This would be a really major decision for our family life. I acknowledge that and I want to make sure that they’re on board with it. I also want to talk to friends and Vermonters to see whether they think it’s a good idea for me to run for governor,” Smith said.
As someone who has never appeared on a statewide ballot, Smith could face a challenge with name recognition.
“I think that we all think that we’re better known than we are. I do find myself on occasion in other parts of Vermont where people say, ‘You’re that speaker guy, right?’” he said. “I don’t think any of us should overestimate how many people know us.”
Meanwhile, former state senator and current Google executive Matt Dunne, has made clear that he’s also itching to return to the Vermont political scene as governor. Dunne, who was part of the five-way Democratic primary in 2010 that Shumlin eventually won, said he plans to consult with his wife, Sarah, as well as his past supporters, before making a decision.
“As I shared with people during the campaign five years ago and more recently, there’s no better job in the world than to represent the people of the state of Vermont and to be able to have a role in helping to move the state forward,” he said. “I will absolutely be considering a run for governor. I’ve been flattered by the large number of phone calls and text messages and Facebook messages and emails I’ve received this afternoon and will take time to talk things over with Sarah and a number of people across the state of Vermont before making a decision.”
Dunne, who is the head of community affairs for Google, said he is not setting any time frame for announcing his decision.
“I’m not going to set a hard date. It’s going to depend on making the time to have that conversation with Sarah and my kids, who are old enough to be aware of what a campaign means this time, as well as touch base with folks who have supported me in the past and others who have just reach out to me today,” he said.
Doug Racine, a former lieutenant governor and candidate in the 2010 Democratic primary, could also consider a bid. He was fired as secretary of the Agency of Human Services last year by Shumlin.
A number of Republicans have been considering a run — even against Shumlin if he were to run again. But Monday’s announcement by the governor may make the prospect of running even more appealing.
At the head of the pack is Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican and a member of Shumlin’s cabinet, who said last week he is considering a run for governor. Scott, known for being an affable politician but one who has not yet had to take strong policy stands as lieutenant governor, said he intends to decide his political future over the next several weeks. Monday’s announcement, he said, will not impact that decision.
“Certainly it was a bit of a surprise, coming today, but as I’ve said consistently, whether the governor decided to run or not run will have no bearing on my decision making,” Scott said. “I’ll contemplate this over the next few weeks.”
Scott said he wants to be governor if the situation is right.
“Sure. I think that given the right circumstances, if I think that I’m the right person to lead Vermont and can help in some way, and my family and business will survive this, then I want to be governor,” he said. “It has to be more than about you. It has to be about others and the whole of Vermont.”
The lieutenant governor was not at Monday’s announcement and said Shumlin did not tell him before making the public announcement.
“I understand. Politics is what it is. I’m not surprised. This obviously had to be a tough decision to make and he wanted to share it with those closest to him,” Scott said.
Former State Auditor and Sen. Randy Brock, who was soundly beaten by Shumlin in 2012, says he may also seek the governorship.
“I’m certainly considering running again and been talking with people over the past several weeks and have some more to do. It’s something I’m considering but no decision has been made. It’s a decision that will be made over the summer,” he said.
Brock said any potential candidate “needs to declare relatively early because there’s a lot of work to be done, not the least of which is significant fundraising challenges.” Shumlin’s announcement, Brock said, will not sway him in either direction.
“It was always a possibility, and probably a real one after the 2014 election, that Gov. Shumlin would not run again,” he said.
Scott Milne, meanwhile, who lost a razor-thin election to Shumlin in November, said he has not yet determined if he will again seek the office. He said be believes “t’s a good move by Peter to step aside.”
“I believe Vermonters are more aware now than at any time this decade just how bad things are, and how much needs to change in order to save Vermont,” he said. “Whether as a candidate, or as a citizen helping good people get elected in 2016, I am looking forward to the campaign trail again.”
Now that the race for governor features no incumbent, more candidates could explore the idea of entering the race.
Shumlin said during his afternoon announcement that he will work to support the Democratic nominee in 2016.
“I’m going fight to ensure that whoever takes my place as governor is a Democrat with the values and priorities to build upon, rather than undermine, the extraordinary progress we have made,” he said.