Sorrell-Donovan rematch on tap?
By PETER HIRSCHFELD
Vermont Press Bureau
MONTPELIER — The campaign finance disclosures unveiled Monday don’t telegraph much about next year’s statewide political races — and on these hot, lazy days of the off-election-year summer, most Vermonters probably aren’t thinking much about them anyway.
But with little more than a year before voters head to the polls again, politicians and their minders are beginning to turn their attention toward 2014, when a potential rematch between Attorney General William Sorrell and Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan has generated the most early interest.
Sorrell, the eight-term Democratic incumbent who fended off Donovan’s primary challenge by a margin of just 700 votes, won’t say whether he’ll seek to retain the post next year. Donovan too has been circumspect about 2014.
But a second bout between these two politicians — each of whom dealt the other some heavy blows during their first contest last summer — has the potential to earn top billing among the statewide races.
“The bottom line is after that race last year I said I was going to, until fall of this year, concentrate on being attorney general, and not really think much about the politics,” Sorrell said Monday.
Donovan has sought to keep a high profile since his defeat in August, and won numerous headlines over the winter for helping turn some of his top campaign issues — including marijuana decriminalization — into law. Donovan was also a key voice in the successful push for legislation that seeks to curb opiate-related deaths by extending criminal immunity to addicts who call authorities on behalf of an overdosing person.
“That’s why primaries are good. If you have good ideas that have merit, you can really impact and effect change in a positive way in this state,” Donovan said last week. “The campaign may have ended, but the work did not.”
Sorrell is eager to relay the vigor with which he has approached his eighth term, the only one for which he had to mount a serious campaign. Perhaps the most decisive factor in whether there will be another contested primary is the outcome of the state’s appeal of a ruling that it lacks the authority to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
A victory for Sorrell in a federal appeals court could make for a far easier path to a ninth term. A loss, however, would spill blood in the political waters. The case has been under review for six months, and Sorrell said he thinks a ruling could come anytime between now and Thanksgiving.
Donovan said the closeness of last year’s primary still stings.
“There are many nights I’m waking up at 3 a.m. thinking about how I could have made up those 700 votes,” Donovan said.
Sorrell, 66, said that if he is going to call it a career, it won’t be for fear of a primary challenge. While campaigning isn’t his favorite activity — “I will say I found this July Fourth to be much more relaxing and pleasant than the last one, when I think I marched in six different parades” — Sorrell said he isn’t afraid to mix it up on the campaign trail.
“I won’t let the fact that campaigning is not always enjoyable be the determinant factor in whether or not I run again,” Sorrell said. “It’s going to be all about, do I still love this job, do I still have the amount of energy I want to bring to bear to it.”
At the top of the ticket, second-term Gov. Peter Shumlin looks strong heading into 2014 and is without a declared Republican challenger. Even after paying off a $275,000 loan he made to his own campaign in 2010, Shumlin still has more than $700,000 on hand. But Randy Brock, his foe from last year, is considering another run.
“It’s nothing that I can really talk about one way or another at this point because it’s really too early to do so,” Brock said Monday.
Shumlin’s 20-point margin of victory notwithstanding, Brock and his political team believe the incumbent Democrat carries some political vulnerabilities. Brock met recently with an official at the Republican Governors Association — a “brief” meeting he said people shouldn’t read much into. But with no other GOP figures stepping into the breach — Phil Scott seems happy to be lieutenant governor for now — Brock could lead the Republican charge again in 2014.
Republicans undoubtedly will look to mount serious challenges against the three Democrats who won their first terms in statewide office last year: Treasurer Beth Pearce, Auditor Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State Jim Condos.
Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont GOP, said the party has “developed a strategic plan” that he believes will yield electoral victories next year.
“We’ve identified our targeted races, and we’re moving forward with renewed support from everybody to get the job done in 2014,” Lindley said Monday.
Lindley wouldn’t say which races the party has targeted, other than to say he’s “confident we’re going to have a top-quality individual running against Shumlin, who has a lot of problems.”