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Vermont Democratic Committee favors first-timer over fixture for attorney general

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July 26, 2012

By Maresa Strano

Montpelier, Vermont: The only state executive primary to field more than one candidate this year in Vermont, the Democratic primary for attorney general between seven-term incumbent Bill Sorrell and Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan has become a battleground contest for the state’s predominantly blue electorate. In theory, the attention is befitting of a race in which a law-oriented official seeks re-election on the heels of a string of high-profile, unevenly received, lawsuits. But in practice, neither major party in Vermont has obstructed Sorrell’s path to re-election since he assumed the position in 1997. Despite the natural, recurrent disappointments that arise over fifteen years of complicated cases (and perhaps more complicated outcomes) as attorney general- Until now.

When Donovan emerged in the Vermont attorney general primary race this year, he looked more like Sorrell’s protege than his immediate replacement. In 2010, Sorrell endorsed Donovan's campaign for re-election as Chittenden County State's Attorney, which is the same office Sorrell held before becoming attorney general. At the outset, he even referred to running against Sorrell as an “uphill battle” and insinuated having low expectations for winning the nomination this year.[1]

In the months of campaigning that followed, however, Donovan proved to be a bigger threat to Sorrell’s re-election than anticipated, as he gained an over 30% lead in fundraising and scored a host of important union endorsements. His momentum appeared to have peaked with an endorsement from the Vermont Democratic Party State Committee in May.[2]

Then, last weekend, The Democratic Committee announced that Sorrell fell three votes short of earning its endorsement this year. The announcement left many committee members "stunned," given the long-serving AG's solid Democratic credentials, which Donovan subsequently affirmed in a public statement.[3] According to some committee voters, the snub may have resulted from Sorrell's inadequate communication and lobbying efforts with the party throughout the campaign thus far.[3] The Democratic Committee, which comprises 28 voting members and is allowed to endorse more than one candidate, awarded its endorsement to Donovan over two months before denying it to Sorrell. At the time Donovan received his endorsement, the consensus among state party members and operatives was support would be likewise extended to Sorrell soon thereafter.[2]

The increasingly heated primary race will be settled on August 28, with the nominee going on to face Burlington businessman Jack McMullen (R) in the fall.

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