MONTPELIER — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott easily won the Republican Party’s nomination for governor Tuesday, securing strong support across the state and surviving a months-long barrage of attack ads from rival Bruce Lisman that sought to paint Scott as an ineffective leader.
The 58-year-old Scott, who is in his third term as lieutenant governor, has about 60 percent of the vote with 268 of 275 voting districts reporting, according to unofficial results posted by the Secretary of State’s Office. Lisman has about 39 percent. The Associated Press called the race for Scott at 9:21 p.m. and Lisman conceded the race shortly thereafter.
“This campaign shows negative campaigning does not work in Vermont,” Scott told his supporters at a party in Barre to watch the election returns.
Scott will now transition his campaign for a showdown with Sue Minter, a former secretary of the Agency of Transportation and the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, in the general election.
“This is going to be a campaign about the economy, making Vermont more affordable and restoring faith and trust in the political process,” he said. “I look forward to having discussions about the issues that face Vermonters and I think the economy is one that most Vermonters understand is very important.”
Lisman, a former Wall Street executive, came up short in his bid to topple the popular lieutenant governor despite spending more than a $1 million of his own money. Financial disclosure records show Lisman spent at least $1.8 million of his own money on a steady stream of television ads over the last several months.
Lisman’s ads attacked Scott for being too close to outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, and in the closing days of the campaign launched an ad intimating that Scott used his elected position to steer construction contracts to the firm he co-owns, Dubois Construction.
“We lost,” Lisman told glum supporters at his own primary night watch party, but said the campaign made a difference.
“I’m saddened that I couldn’t deliver a victory to you. I’m hopeful that our energy, enthusiasm and ideas will provide a sense of urgency on behalf of change,” Lisman added, before throwing his support behind Scott for the general election. “I ask you to support — without qualification — Phil Scott. He won. He needs to win for our state.”
Although Scott bested Lisman, the attacks Scott overcame in the primary could have lingering effects as he transitions to a one-on-one race with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter, a former secretary of the Agency of Transportation who edged out Matt Dunne, a former Google executive and Windsor County state senator.
The Republican primary devolved into a scrappy showdown in the closing days of the race. Lisman and his campaign repeatedly suggested that the Scott campaign was responsible for robocalls that told Lisman supporters to vote on Aug. 23 — two weeks after the actual primary. The allegations from the Lisman camp were made without any evidence to suggest the rival campaign was responsible.
The unfounded accusations drew an extraordinary rebuke from Vermont Republican Party Chairman David Sunderland, who made a rare move to insert himself into the controversy. He issued a news release demanding the Lisman campaign produce evidence of the charge or withdraw it and fire any staffers responsible for the claim. The Lisman campaign ignored Sunderland’s request and continued to suggest a connection to Scott.
The Republican Governor’s Association was quick to weigh in on Scott’s victory Tuesday night. The group could be gearing up to spend heavily in an effort to claim another state’s governorship for Republicans.
“As a practical leader, successful businessman and dedicated public servant, Phil Scott has a proven record of working across party lines to get things done for the people of Vermont,” New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the RGA chairwoman, said in a statement. “With Phil Scott as governor, the people of Vermont know they will have a leader who can restore trust in state government and solve the challenges facing their families. Phil has a bold plan to revitalize Vermont’s economy, encourage innovation in education and get Vermont back on track for everyone. The RGA is proud to support Phil Scott to be the next governor of Vermont.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.