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Bruce Lisman Giving 'Serious' Thought To Challenging Shumlin

Toby Talbot
Bruce Lisman, founder of Campaign For Vermont, is seriously considering a run for governor.

Bruce Lisman, the former Wall Street executive and founder of Campaign for Vermont, confirmed Friday that he’s “seriously” considering a run for governor.

According to recent IRS filings, Lisman gave $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association back on Jan. 16. Just 10 days earlier, as VPR reported in February, he donated $10,000 to the Vermont GOP.

But whether the Burlington native pulls the trigger on a challenge to Peter Shumlin or not, Lisman is certainly ramping his presence in Republican politics.

Lisman had worked hard until recently to cultivate a brand as a nonpartisan centrist, pouring more than $1 million into a “grassroots” advocacy organization that adopted the tagline of “progress ahead of partisanship.”

And Lisman says he continues to vote person, not party, recent donations notwithstanding.

“I don’t know about you or anybody else, but I choose candidates,” Lisman said. “The party alone isn’t sufficient for me.”

But his appearance at a Vermont GOP fundraiser last December – New Jersey Governor and RGA Chairman Chris Christie was the featured guest – combined with his contributions to Republican causes of late, suggest the deep-pocketed newcomer to Vermont’s political scene isn’t so concerned anymore about projecting a right-leaning image. And while it’s generally believed Lisman would run as an independent, he’d have to carry the state’s Republican base if he hoped to have a fighting chance against Shumlin.

Lisman on Friday said the motivation behind his contribution to the RGA had to do with the appeal of Christie’s (pre- George Washington bridge scandal) message back in December, and with Christie’s powers of persuasion.

“I liked how he said things and his point of view on some matters … his message of moderation, engaging the electorate,” Lisman said. “And I talked to him, and he asked me to give some money. And I did.”

Asked whether that his gift to the RGA means he’d prefer to see more Republicans elected to governorships in 2014 than Democrats, Lisman said “definitely not.”

“I don’t even think like that,” Lisman said.

There are no records of donations from Lisman to either the Democratic Governors Association or the Vermont Democratic Party.

As for Lisman’s own gubernatorial ambitions, he says he’s in serious deliberations now over whether to run in 2014.

“I think about it now because so many people ask me, and the numbers of people asking me have escalated,” Lisman said. “I give serious thought to serious inquiries, and it’s definitely something worth thinking about, but I haven’t decided anything.”

The former head of global equities at Bear Stearns – a position he held when the firm collapsed in 2008 – could certainly underwrite his own well-funded campaign operation.

Lisman is one of three people who have been the subject of gubernatorial speculation in Montpelier, along with Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, and last cycle’s failed GOP challenger Randy Brock.

Brock, who didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Friday, told Seven Days recently that he’d announce his plans in early May. Scheuermann, a four-term rep from Stowe who’s made her name on education financing reform, said Friday she’ll announce next week whether she’ll mount a bid.

Scheuermann said she’s spoken with Lisman about her possible candidacy, but didn’t elaborate on their conversation. She said she has not spoken with any representatives of the RGA.

Lisman said he hasn’t set any timelines for his decision-making process.

“I think you’re supposed to make a decision when you’re ready to, and on the right basis, and I haven’t made a decision,” Lisman said.

Asked about whether he’s commissioned any polls to measure how he might match up against Shumlin, Lisman said he has not. Lisman said his $25,000 gift to the RGA was not intended to buy the organization’s allegiance, or to make them less inclined to lend financial support to a Republican candidate in Vermont in 2014.

If Lisman does run against Shumlin as an independent, his chances would drop markedly if the contest became a three-way race. And if the RGA was to adopt a hands-off approach to the race in Vermont, it might help discourage any prospective candidacies from name-brand Republicans.

Darcie Johnston is a veteran Republican operative who served as Brock’s de facto campaign manager in 2012. She says she welcomes Lisman’s financial support for Republican causes. But she says Lisman’s potential candidacy underscores the failings of a Vermont Republican Party leadership that should have a done a far better job cultivating an actual Republican candidate.

“Leaders of the Republican Party have failed to stand up and support candidates within the party that offered Vermonters real opportunity,” Johnston said. “And as a result, Bruce Lisman is able and willing to step into that vacuum.”

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