Politically Speaking: Republicans could challenge Dubie

Could there be a Republican primary for governor in 2010, or an independent conservative candidate in next year’s general election? While most media and political attention has been devoted to the five-way primary for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, there have been some indications in recent weeks that Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie may face challenges to his candidacy from the conservative side of the political spectrum.
In early November, former House Republican leader Michael Bernhardt said that he is considering running for governor as an independent in 2010. Bernhardt, who lives in Londonderry, ran unsuccessful Republican campaigns for governor in 1988, losing to Madeleine Kunin, and for lieutenant governor in 1990, losing to Howard Dean.
Bernhardt told an interviewer for Vermont Public Radio that “our state is facing potential bankruptcy. Our unfunded obligations, the grants and commitments we’ve made to people are unsustainable. So that issue must be the central issue of the 2010 campaign.” Bernhardt went on to say that he is not convinced that Dubie has a plan to address the state’s fiscal crisis. “There are a lot of folks who haven’t heard him talk on how he’s going to handle that. So it’s raised some concern.”
Bernhardt also told VPR that if he runs for governor next year, he would do so as an independent in November, rather than challenging Dubie in the Republican primary. While Bernhardt will not make up his mind whether to run for several more months, an independent fiscal conservative candidacy could be a significant threat to Dubie. Since Bernhardt would draw votes from Dubie, not from the Democratic candidate, some Republicans would consider his entry into the race to be a “spoiler” candidacy.
More recently, Rodolphe “Skip” Vallee, a businessman, long-time Vermont Republican activist and fundraiser, and President George W. Bush’s nominee as U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia, has told political associates and members of the press that he is considering entering the Republican primary to succeed Gov. Douglas. Vallee told the Vermont Press Bureau that “the state is at a real crossroads. This is a time the state needs real leadership … Vermont needs fiscal stability and the kind of business environment where we can keep our children in the state.”
When asked about Dubie’s candidacy, Vallee’s response was that “I know Brian Dubie, I like Brian Dubie, I respect Brian Dubie. But elections are not anointments. Vermonters really need to have a full range of choices both within their party and certainly in a general election.”
Neither Bernhardt nor Vallee is close to making a decision to become an active candidate for governor. But the trial balloons they have both sent up within the last few weeks indicate that there may not be unanimous enthusiasm for Dubie’s candidacy among Vermont’s Republican movers and shakers. In particular, some members of the fiscal conservative wing of the Republican party may not be convinced that Dubie would be the strongest candidate for the GOP against whoever emerges from the Democratic primary.
As lieutenant governor, Dubie has always run very low-key campaigns, keeping appearances at joint forums with other candidates to a minimum, and speaking primarily to friendly audiences rather than to the press or at larger public events. In effect, Bernhardt and Vallee have both sent shots across Dubie’s bow, telling him that he needs to go public sooner rather than later with his solutions for Vermont’s fiscal problems, in order to convince fiscal conservatives that he can indeed be a winning candidate for governor.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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