The Washington, Vermont, man who won the Republican nomination for six statewide offices last week had planned to withdraw from most of those contests, but a legal tussle with the Secretary of State’s Office has H. Brooke Paige reconsidering his plans.
Paige won the GOP nomination in his primary races for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state treasurer, state auditor, attorney general and secretary of state.
His expansive political ambitions were strategic: by having at least one Republican candidate on the primary ballot in those races, Paige said, it would prevent a Democrat from winning the GOP nomination via write-in votes, as has happened in the past.
Paige said he never intended to run a general election campaign in each of those races; under Vermont law, Paige has 10 days from the primary to withdraw from the race, at which point the Vermont Republican Party would be permitted to nominate a replacement in his stead.
And that was Paige’s plan all along — secure the GOP nominations, then withdraw from the races and leave it to the party to find respectable nominees to challenge the Democratic incumbents.
But when Paige submitted his withdrawal letters Wednesday for five of the six posts he’d won (he intends to run for secretary of state himself), Secretary of State Jim Condos rejected them, saying they included “conditions” of withdrawal that run afoul of Vermont elections statute.
Specifically, Paige wanted to make his withdrawal from the U.S. Senate race contingent on the Republican Party nominating former gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano to take his place.
Feliciano, who ran as a Libertarian for governor in 2014, announced in a Facebook post earlier this week that he wants to challenge U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders as a Republican in the general election, should Paige withdraw. Paige said Feliciano would be a worthy adversary to Sanders.
“I think one of the most important considerations is to have a vibrant enough candidate that the campaign requires Mr. Sanders to stay home, instead of romping around the country, throwing Molotov cocktails into other candidacies for various Democrats,” Paige said.
In his letters of withdrawal for the U.S. House, state treasurer, state auditor and attorney general posts, Paige told Condos his withdrawal would be contingent on the Republican Party nominating someone else to take his place on the ballot.
“Should the Republican Party Nominating Committee fail to nominate a legally qualified candidate, ... my name should remain on the ballot for this office in the General Election as the Republican nominee,” Paige wrote in those letters.
Condos' office, however, said Paige can’t dictate the terms of his withdrawal.
“The law does not allow for conditional withdrawals of candidacy,” Condos said in a written statement Thursday. “A candidate either withdraws, or they do not.”
Paige said Thursday that he disagrees with Condos’ interpretation of the law. And he said Condos’ ruling thwarts the pledge Paige made to voters when he entered the races.
“My modest condition should not have ... impeded them from accepting my withdrawal,” Paige said Thursday. “Essentially what I had asked is only to fulfill the promise that I made to the voters: that I would ensure that every Democratic contender in the general election would be opposed by someone, and if by no one else by myself. And by unconditionally withdrawing from these races, I would be unable to fulfill that promise, and many of the Democrats would go unopposed in the general election.”
But while Paige may take issue with Condos’ ruling, the Vermont GOP does not. In an email Thursday, Jack Moulton, executive director of the Vermont Republican Party, said he and GOP Chairwoman Deb Billado “have both read the statutes regarding this process and came to the same conclusion as the Secretary of State's office.”
“We stand in full support of the Secretary of State's … interpretation of Vermont Election Law in this case,” Moulton wrote.
According to Condos, Paige’s deadline for deciding whether to withdraw or stay in is 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24.
Paige said he has “some considerations” to contemplate as that deadline nears. While he said he could go to court to challenge the ruling, “I am reticent to do so, because in any case things in court take a long time.”
And with an absolute deadline of Sept. 6 to get the general election ballot printed, Paige said a court battle is unlikely to resolve before then.
That seems to leave Paige with two options: withdraw from races unconditionally, or remain on the ballot. Paige, however, said there may be “some third way that they possibly haven’t considered.”
Asked what that third way might look like, Paige demurred:
“You understand that I don’t want to reveal my ultimate strategies here,” Paige said. “You like to keep a few surprises in the box.”