Vermont Primary Profile: 4 Republicans challenge Scott

Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 6:11 PM EDT
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It's not unusual to have multiple candidates in a primary fight for a chance to challenge a sitting governor. But it's not as common for that incumbent to face multiple challengers from his own party. That's the case for Vermont Gov. Phil Scott who is in a five-way Republican primary. Our Calvin Cutler has a closer look at the GOP field.

Brookfield Republican John Klar has his eye on Governor Scott's job.

Klar worked in the UK as a tax attorney, then in Connecticut as a substance abuse counselor, putting him on the front line of New England's opioid epidemic.

Then in 1998, he was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

"I said I'm sick of living where the money is, I want to go where my heart is. I'm going to Vermont," Klar said.

Klar wants to focus on Vermont's schools, opioid abuse and the economy. He says he's running to stand up for Vermont's conservative base, which he says has been left in the dark by Scott's policies.

"We need a little more frugality out of our government, not out of the citizens. We can't keep tightening our belts while the bureaucracy grows," Klar said.

Political scientists say Klar's campaign and the traction he's gained show the shifting face of the Vermont GOP.

Bert Johnson, a political science professor at Middlebury College, says Klar is leading a base Republican ruralism movement.

He says Scott's popularity among urban and suburban voters could influence rural Vermont's opinion of Scott.

"He may have moved leftward enough that some rural Republicans are getting uncomfortable. And that's what I think John Klar is trying to tap into," Johnson said.

Klar is one of four Republicans facing an uphill battle to unseat Scott. But unlike the others, he's built a coalition of Republicans running for the House and Senate under the so-called agripublican ticket.

"Run as many candidates as they can in these legislative races, try to pick off some of the more moderate Republicans and thereby scare the GOP, spook them into taking a more conservative position on some of these issues that they care about," Johnson said.

Until the primaries, Governor Scott says he isn't campaigning during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Klar says he's not buying it.

"I think that he's counting on COVID to be the coattails he skates into office and I question whether that's going to succeed for him," Klar said.

John Klar is up against Doug Cavett, Bernard Peters, Emily Peyton and Gov. Phil Scott in the GOP primary.