The Thing Everybody’s Talking About That’ll Never Happen

The Governor, upon flummoxing Stewart Ledbetter

It’s almost a given in #vtpoli circles that Gov. Phil Scott will run for U.S. Senate. The question is when — in 2022, against Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here], or 2024 against Bernie Sanders or [insert Democrat here]. Many believe Scott would be unbeatable against anyone but St. Patrick or Bernie. Or even including St. Patrick and Bernie.

It’s the best available speculative topic we’ve got, given the placidity of our political scene. We just had the least contentious legislative session in years, and it’s left Scott and the Democrats practically singing “Kumbaya.” There’s no fun in handicapping the 2022 race for governor, assuming Scott wants a fourth term. The biggest “drama” about the next election cycle is whether Doug Hoffer will retire as auditor and clear the way for his newly-minted deputy Tim Ashe, but that’s not exactly clickbait, no offense.

So, speculation abounds. And all of it is likely to remain just that. Because it says here Scott isn’t running for Senate next year or anytime thereafter.

The usual caveat: I’ve got a spotty record as a prognosticator, to put it kindly. Grain of salt. But I do have reason to believe.

After the jump: Reason to believe.

Let’s take this one step at a time. First, I don’t think Leahy is retiring. Another term would put him in the history books as the longest-tenured senator, and if Democrats retain a Senate majority, he’d continue as chair of the Appropriations Committee. That’s irreplaceable clout for a senator from one of America’s smallest states. (He’s used his position to make sure Vermont got a healthy cut of federal Covid relief.) Plus, if that Politico second-hand anonymous quote is accurate, he thinks he’s irreplaceable on the ballot.

Second, would Scott run against Leahy? No, he wouldn’t. At Tuesday’s “Covid-19 And Anything Else That’s On Your Mind” press briefing, WPTZ’s Stewart Ledbetter asked Scott if he’d like to see Leahy fun for re-election. The governor’s one-word answer: “Yes.”

Ledbetter was taken aback by Scott’s brevity, fumbled around for a second, and moved on to the other question he’d prepared in advance. Which, side note, is a problem with these marathon briefings: Everyone comes in with prepared questions, and no one follows up. If this had been a traditional presser, the reporters wouldn’t have let that “Yes” stand on its own.

Now, if this were just about any politician besides Phil Scott, his answer could be brushed aside as a political convenience. But he says what he means.

So you can take that one-word answer as proof that Scott won’t challenge Leahy. As for whether he’d run if Leahy retired, he gave a seemingly decisive answer in a fawning profile in The Atlantic: “I don’t have any interest in running for the Senate. I’m terribly happy right here in Vermont.”

Again, he says what he means, and I believe him.

Is there a chance that he’d run someday? Sure, a small chance. He does feel a sense of loyalty to his party and he wants it to change, so he could be persuaded to run as a standard-bearer for non-Trumpian Republicanism. Plus, national Republicans would make it easy for him; they’d pour in truckloads of money if they saw a chance to take away a solid Blue seat.

But the most likely scenario for Scott’s future is serving another term or two as governor and then stepping out of the spotlight. Hey, if he were to serve three more terms, he’d set the record for the longest-tenured governor in Vermont history.

If he wants it, it’s his. In the political realm, that’s the only thing he might possibly want.

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