Vermont's incumbent Republican governor is facing reelection during the once-in-a-century pandemic that has pushed campaigning way down his list of priorities.
A week before the election, Gov. Phil Scott, who is seeking his third two-year term as the GOP leader of one of the bluest states in the country, says his first priority is the pandemic, followed by running the state government. Campaigning is near the bottom of the list.
"We’ve done a pretty good job, I think, thus far," Scott said Tuesday during his twice-weekly news conference. “We’ll know a lot more in about eight days as to whether we’ve done a good enough job. Suffice it to say, we’ve done all we can during these unusual times."
The Democrat challenging Scott in Tuesday’s election, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, praises the governor for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. But he says he'd do more to help the people of Vermont and do more to fight climate change.
Zuckerman said that, if elected, he would keep many of the officials who have been advising Scott on the handling of the pandemic. While case numbers have been rising in recent weeks, Vermont for months has been among the national leaders in keeping COVID-19 at bay.
But Zuckerman, who has run for office over the years as both a Democrat and a Progressive, points out that Scott has vetoed 20 bills during his nearly four years in office.
Many of those bills were dear to the state's Progressives, such as an increase in the minimum wage, a bill that would hold producers of toxic waste liable for medical monitoring and a 24-hour waiting period for the purchase of handguns.
Zuckerman doesn't think Scott has done enough to fight global warming or help Vermonters who are, as he puts it, struggling to feed their children.
But during the pandemic it's hard to get his message out.
“There are a tremendous number of Vermonters where even COVID is maybe not first and foremost, because putting food on the table is first and foremost,” Zuckerman said. “I have been certainly getting through when I can reach them but, you know, they are hard to reach because we didn’t have the normal agricultural fairs (or similar events) where you might bump into folks.”
In addition to Scott and Zuckerman, there are six third-party candidates on the ballot.
Matt Dickinson, a professor of political science at Middlebury College, said it’s likely Scott will win reelection on Tuesday “relatively easily."
Dickinson said Zuckerman has run a good, issues-oriented campaign, but has been unable to break through against Scott. It's hard to beat an incumbent in Vermont, but that has been made even harder by the pandemic that has allowed Scott “to run for office by pretending not to run for office.”
The governor’s now twice-weekly news conferences give Scott the opportunity to talk about the pandemic or anything reporters who call in from across the state want to ask him.
“He appears to be an individual who doesn’t have time for politics because he’s facing this statewide, countrywide, global pandemic,” Dickinson said. “That is his priority, as it should be. It’s hard to beat that combination.”
Scott, of Berlin, is a 61-year-old former construction executive who was first elected in 2016.
The only statewide Republican office-holder in a heavily Democratic state, Scott has been regularly critical of Republican President Donald Trump and he supports some positions favored by Democrats, including reproductive rights.
Before the pandemic, Scott staked his years as governor to what he considers to be his most important job: making Vermont more affordable without raising taxes or fees.
Zuckerman, a 49-year-old Hinesburg farmer, was first elected lieutenant governor in 2016 after serving for years in the state Senate and House. While he won the Democratic nomination in Vermont’s August primary, he has also long been known as a member of the state’s Progressive Party.