Politics

Democratic candidates for attorney general make final appeal for votes

Rory Thibault and Charity Clark. Photos by Natalie Williams/VTDigger and Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Unlike races higher on the ballot, no public polling has been conducted on one of the state’s hottest contests this primary season: the race for attorney general. 

With little known about who might hold an edge, Charity Clark, ​​the former chief of staff in the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, and Rory Thibault, the Washington County state’s attorney, have spent the final days of the Democratic primary contest meeting with smaller audiences and blitzing voters on social media, in newspaper ads and at honk-and-waves.

In addition to promoting their experiences, they’re also holding up their lists of endorsements, with some of the state’s more stalwart party leaders — including two former governors — backing Clark, and Thibault earning support from state Treasurer Beth Pearce and former Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell.

Clark is seeking to be the first woman elected to the office. The 47-year-old from Williston has campaigned on keeping many of the office’s current practices in place. Thibault, 39, of Cabot, has pitched some bigger structural reforms. 

(Republican H. Brooke Paige, a perennial candidate, and Progressive Elijah Bergman have also filed to run for attorney general but face no competition in their respective primaries.)

Campaign finance reports show a clear edge for Clark. According to reports filed through Aug. 1, she had raised $120,700, compared to Thibault’s $88,823. Clark outraised Thibault more than 3-to-1 in the month of July.

The fillings also showed that Clark had an advantage in cash on hand heading into the last days of the campaign, with $66,305 in unspent funds compared to $25,322 for Thibault.

While Clark announced the endorsements of former Vermont governors Madeleine Kunin and Howard Dean in press releases earlier in the campaign, another former Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, is also financially supporting her candidacy. Clark’s latest campaign filing shows a $1,500 donation from the account of “Peter Shumlin for Governor.”

In addition to Pearce, a Democrat who is not seeking reelection to the state treasurer's job, and Campbell, who is now the executive director of the state’s Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, Thibault this week earned support from state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden. The supporter of criminal justice reform said Thibault is a leader who “bends the arc toward justice.”

Thibault’s campaign finance reports also show former Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon (a Republican who is also a current city councilor) and his spouse Karen Lauzon each donating $4,080. Thomas Lauzon’s Barre-based Edgewood Development LLC, is also listed as contributing $4,080. 

Some, including Kitty Toll, a former Democratic state representative from Danville now running for lieutenant governor, have donated to both Clark and Thibault. Toll gave $250 to both campaigns, according to recent finance reports.

Throughout the primary race and in their debate appearances, both candidates have been pushing their professional experiences to differentiate themselves.

Clark has aligned herself closely with former Attorney General TJ Donovan, the Democrat who won three two-year terms before opting not to run again and stepping down in June to take a lobbying job with Roblox, an online gaming platform.

Clark had worked in the attorney general’s office for the past seven years, including four years as Donovan’s chief of staff, before leaving in May to focus on her campaign. She has highlighted her leadership role in the office and has told voters she is prepared to step into the role of attorney general “on Day One.”

Thibault, Washington County’s state’s attorney since 2018, has referred to himself as a “practitioner,” who, if elected, would at times take to the courtroom to argue cases himself. 

He has talked of reforms he would make when it comes to police accountability and handling use-of-force investigations involving officers, saying he was open to using special prosecutors in such cases.

Thibault’s final week of campaigning included plans to appear in each of the state’s 14 counties, with many of the stops described simply as hourlong “honk-and-wave” events.

At a small “Coffee with the Candidates” in Norwich earlier this week, Thibault appeared with  Rebecca Holcombe, Vermont’s former education secretary, who is running as a Democrat from Norwich for a seat in the Vermont House.

Holcombe said Monday that she believed it was important that voters have a chance to meet and speak with candidates in person. Asked who she was supporting in the race for attorney general, Holcombe replied, “I’m not endorsing anyone right now, I’m just listening and learning.” 

Clark’s schedule in the campaign’s final days has included a series of “meet and greets” at restaurants and cafes from Vergennes to Brattleboro.

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