Dems, GOP present unified parties as general election begins

BURLINGTON — After lengthy primary campaigns, both the Vermont Democratic Party and the Vermont Republican Party gathered Wednesday morning to rally their troops and present a unified front for the general election.


In the foreground, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter hugs House Speaker Shap Smith, who came up short in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. In the background, Sen. David Zuckerman, the nominee for lieutenant governor, hugs Matt Dunne, who was defeated by Minter. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

Democrats gathered at Burlington’s Main Street Landing Wednesday morning where the winners and losers in the primaries for governor and lieutenant governor spent time exchange hugs and well wishes.

Matt Dunne, who lost to Sue Minter in the gubernatorial primary Tuesday by a wide margin, provided a gracious introduction for Minter after his campaign manager Nick Charyk lashed out at her last week. Charyk accused her of being part of the establishment trying to undermine Dunne for his progressive platform, offered gracious words to his former rival Wednesday

But that seemed to be forgotten Wednesday as Dunne offered his endorsement for the general election.

“It wouldn’t be OK if we just wanted any Democrat to win. We need a Democrat who is smart, who was committed, who was tireless and who exudes an authentic passion for our communities and our world in a way that can ring clarion throughout our state and to all Vermonters. And that is why I am so proud and delighted to both support and introduce the next governor of the state of Vermont, Sue Minter,” he said.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter is endorsed by Matt Dunne, who she defeated in Tuesday's primary. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter is endorsed by Matt Dunne, who she defeated in Tuesday\’s primary. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

Dunne, a former Google executive and Windsor County state senator, said the Democratic Party stands for what is best about Vermont.

“Those of you who have known me for a long time know that I love this state deeply and that I am passionate about the issues of economic justice and of our environment and of our ability to move forward with a true sense of community that has been a part of our state throughout our history,” he said. “It is, as I used to refer to it, our secret sauce. It is the secret sauce that allows us to do things that no state our size has any business doing — getting out there and being able to deliver great, progressive ideas, to be able to be innovative, to be able to deliver superb public education and to be able to come together even after difficult times to make sure that we’re all focused on what ultimately is important.”

Minter, meanwhile, offered her thanks to Dunne and Peter Galbraith, the former diplomat and Windham County state senator who won about 10 percent of the vote, for the efforts in the primary. Both gave their “heart and soul to this race” and they “inspired so many people,” she said.

The race, Minter said, reminded her of her youth and her siblings.

“Matt knows this. I grew up with three big brothers and we used to push each other around and play a lot of tug-of-war, and I have to say, Matt, that the last year has kind of reminded me of those days because Matt and Peter, they pushed me, they challenged me, and we shared a lot of laughs together along this journey, but most of all we know that we are one Democratic Party family,” she said.

Minter urged her fellow Democrats not to slow down and to instead “charge forward to the future.”

“I’m really proud to carry the torch for all of the issues that we care about on to November,” she said. “I hope that I have made you proud of standing up for the vision that we share for the future of our great state.”

Meanwhile, the Republican Party gathered in Montpelier for its own unity breakfast. Former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman, who lost the gubernatorial primary Tuesday to Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, offered his endorsement. Lisman’s support comes after months of attack ads against Scott calling his political career and his integrity into question.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman speaks at a Vermont GOP unity event. (VPR/Peter Hirschfeld)

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman speaks at a Vermont GOP unity event as the party’s nominee, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, right, listens. (VPR/Peter Hirschfeld)

“Even when we were arguing, and arguing in public, I never changed my view of him. He’s a person I like a great deal. I look forward to spending time with him, though probably not much on the campaign trail,” Lisman said. “I want to tell you Phil is a man who cares deeply about Vermont and proves it every single day. Phil is a man who listens to Vermonters and he shows that every single day. Phil is a great leader. He shows it, but we show it by following a person that we believe in. Finally, I want to tell you that Phil Scott … is going to be a great governor.”

Scott sounded ready to refocus his campaign on the general election and the showdown with Minter.

“Now that the primary is behind us, I’m looking forward to working with Bruce to restore balance in Montpelier, elect more common sense Republicans and take Vermont in a very new and more prosperous direction,” Scott said at the Capital Plaza Hotel.

Scott urged Republicans to work together to elect more Republicans in the Legislature and to other down ticket races.

“This is really the time for our party to unite. We need to all pull together in the same direction to be successful in November,” he said. “This election isn’t just about winning the gubernatorial race. It’s about helping candidates up and down the ticket to be successful. With more Republicans in the State House, the more capable we will be to address the economic issues that are facing Vermonters.”

The Democratic candidates in the three-way primary also pledged to work together to defeat Republican nominee Randy Brock, a former Franklin County state senator and state auditor. Burlington Rep. Kesha Ram, who finished third behind House Speaker Shap Smith and primary winner David Zuckerman, a Chittenden County state senator, focused her remarks on Minter.

“I stand should-to-shoulder with Sue Minter. I count Sue’s victory as my own,” she said, noting that more women are needed in elected office.

Rep. Kesha Ram and Demcoratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter embrace at a unity event. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

Rep. Kesha Ram and Demcoratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter embrace at a unity event. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

Ram said all three candidates in the Democratic primary ran positive races.

“It’s clear to me that Shap, that Dave, and I, can be incredible proud of the race we ran in the lieutenant governor’s campaign,” Ram said. “We had an elevated debate about working families, about seniors, about small businesses, about what the future looks like for the next generation and it is a campaign that Vermonters can be incredibly proud of. Thank you so much for being a statesmen. Shap, I would follow you to the ends of the Earth.”

While Ram declared the Democratic Party would make “Vermont a better place by electing Sue Minter governor,” she challenged Zuckerman, who serves as both a Progressive and a Democrat in the Senate, to stick with Democrats and help them elected Democratic candidates.

“Dave, I want to say this — we’re in a pivotal time in our country where this is about the change shaping us or us shaping the change. You have brought incredible spirit and change to the Democratic Party and I hope you will stand should-to-shoulder among us and stay among us and help keep bringing that change to the Democratic Party and to Vermont,” she said.

Smith, who has served as speaker for the past eight years and is widely respected within the Democratic caucus, received an extended ovation from the crowd before delivering emotional remarks.

“It has been an incredibly race … and it has been an honor for me to have the opportunity to stand on the same stage as (Ram) and David and to have a discussion that is worthy of politics and Vermont and dig into the issues and run a campaign that is about what the future of Vermont is all about. It has just been incredibly to share time with all of you, share our senses of humor and occasionally our frustrations, but we have much to be proud of,” he said.

Smith then took a moment to reflect on what has transpired in his life since he initially joined the race for governor before dropping out to help his wife battle breast cancer.

“It has been a tough year. It’s been a really tough year,” Smith said, allowing his emotions to show as he looked to his wife, Melissa Volansky.

House Speaker Shap Smith, who lost his bid for the Democratic Party's nomination for lieutenant governor, embraces his wife, Melissa Volansky, during emotional remarks at a party unity event. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

House Speaker Shap Smith, who lost his bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, embraces his wife, Melissa Volansky, during emotional remarks at a party unity event. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

“Melissa, I love you so much,” he said through tears, as Volansky joined him at the podium to share a hug. “But, you know what? Vermonters have tough years. A lot of Vermonters struggle every day to make their lives better and what’s great about this state is that people who have tough years get up and up over and over again because they know that getting up is going to make things better. That’s who we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for the people who are struggling to do better.”

Smith urged his fellow Democrats to also focus on what “is going right” in Vermont, including health care coverage for children.

“David can tell that story because he moved here, he came to UVM, he knew that this was a place that he wanted to be and he built a farm and built a business, had a family and stayed here and he’ll bring his progressive values to the Democratic Party and he will help drive a positive message about what Vermont can do and how Vermont can be an even better place than it already is,” Smith said before introducing his “good friend” Zuckerman.

Zuckerman, meanwhile, said he planned to work with the Democratic Party.

“We are going to run a positive campaign. We are going to talk about issues that impact everyday Vermonters in their pocketbooks, with their families, and all of our futures together,” he said. “I look forward to working with all of you. Sue and I had a great chat last night. We’re going to be out there working together left and right bringing people together — Progressives, Democrats — out there to win both of these races in November so that we can continue to move forward with a great direction for Vermont.”

Still, some lingering questions remain about how Zuckerman and the Democratic Party will coordinate. He was denied access to the party’s voter list during the primary, and VDP Executive Director Conor Casey said Wednesday it was not yet clear whether he would have it for the general election campaign.

“We’ll have to talk about it,” Casey said.

Zuckerman said he expects he will be given access to the party’s data.

“I think I’ve earned it,” he said.

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