Sen. John Rodgers on path to possible write-in upset, but primary voters face tough decision

State Sen. John Rodgers is on track for a potential upset in the Democratic primary race for governor, but challenges remain for Republicans and independents who wish to cross party lines to give him their pro-gun vote.

Bruce Parker/TNR

Many pro-gun Vermonters, Republicans and Democrats alike, are considering voting for Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, even though he’s a write-in candidate.

On the Democratic ticket, four candidates for governor appear on the primary ballot: James Ehlers, of Winooski, Brenda Siegel, of Newfane, Ethan Sonneborn, of Bristol, and Christine Hallquist, of Hyde Park.

Rodgers, a write-in candidate whose name does not appear on the ballot, is nevertheless gaining momentum quietly out of view.

One of the few Blue Dog Democrats left in the state, the Essex-Orleans senator has been an outspoken critic of gun control, industrial-scale wind turbines and overregulation of rural businesses. Rodgers’ leadership on hot-button issues at the Statehouse has long appealed to Democrats and Republicans alike.

The numbers may be on his side.

On Monday, Secretary of State Jim Condos said “there has been some indication of lower voter turn-out.” If true, Rodgers could leap-frog to victory should the registered candidates split the vote four ways while the state’s pro-gun voters pick Rodgers as a write-in.

Since April, when Republican Gov. Phil Scott imposed a slew of gun restrictions on law-abiding Vermonters, sportsmen’s groups, hunters and other gun owners have been plotting to defeat the incumbent governor.

RELATED VIDEO: Gun owners mobilize to vote Scott, anti-gun lawmakers out of office

However, the state is dominated by Democratic voters, and Republican primary challenger Keith Stern, of Springfield, has delivered a lackluster performance in head-to-head debates with the governor. That leaves Rodgers as the pro-gun candidate with perhaps the strongest chance of winning in November.

But he has to win the primary first, and Republicans must cross party lines on Primary Day to help give him a victory.

Vermont is an “open-primary” state, which means anyone from any political affiliation can grab a ballot for any party and cast votes. But there’s a caveat: voters may choose only one party’s ballot for the primaries. That’s a challenge for conservative Second Amendment supporters who may be tempted to grab a Democratic ballot and write in Rodgers on Aug. 14.

“That’s a confusing mess,” Bob DePino, vice president of Gun Owners of Vermont, told True North in an interview.

DePino said it’s a tricky situation because any non-Democrat taking a Democratic ballot to vote for Rodgers surrenders the option to vote for their own party’s candidates during the primaries — though they may switch back to their own party candidates in the general election.

Will Senning, Vermont’s director of elections, confirmed the situation in an interview with True North.

Wikimedia Commons/Kelvinhu

JUST ONE BALLOT: Crossing party lines in the Vermont primaries means there’s no voting on another party’s ballot. However, voters may switch back for the general election in November.

“In the August primary, the way the law reads is voters are given all three ballots and you choose one of the three ballots to vote, and you can only vote in one of the party primaries,” he said.

He said a voter can write in a candidate regardless of if a race is contested or not, and regardless of if the candidate is from the ticket’s party. However,  a write-in vote will count towards nomination for the party associated with the ballot.

“If you write in John Rodgers for the Republican ballot, that would be a vote for John Rodgers for the Republican nomination,” Senning said. “It is not added to the write-in votes that John Rodgers gets on the Democratic ballot, which are votes to nominate him for the Democratic nomination.”

Vermont’s open primary system does not involve party registration. Senning said some states require party registration yet still allow people to choose any ballot. But states that require party registration and only allow voting on a ballot for the registered party are known as “closed primary” states.

DePino said if pro-gun Republicans and independents choose the Democrat ticket and vote for Rodgers, they may also use the opportunity to influence other Democratic races.

“You could not only vote for [Rodgers], but you can vote against [anti-gun Sen. Philip] Baruth, and other things that can be done if you take the Democratic ticket in the primary,” he said.

For example, DePino said he has contacted one of Baruth’s challengers, Steve May, of Richmond. While May is not considered a pro-gun candidate, DePino says he might be a better option than Baruth, who received a “rabidly anti-gun” rating from Gun Owners of Vermont.

“He actually was brave enough to fill out our questionnaire. So he’s scored kind of poorly, but better than Phil Baruth,” DePino said. “In that particular case, you would vote for somebody better than Phil because we know what we’re gonna get if we get Phil Baruth.”

With less than two weeks until the election, pro-Second Amendment Republicans and independents must decide if they want to attempt to give Rodgers a victory in the Democratic primary or stick with their own party ballots and races.

“If we had enough people on both sides, we could have enough people vote John Rodgers in and have enough [Republicans] vote against Phil,” he said. “Then you have John Rodgers and Keith Stern in November, and we win either way.”

DePino said Rodgers is “behind the eight ball” for not being a registered candidate. Rodgers told True North that his family’s business commitments prevent him from running a conventional campaign.

For other races on the Democratic ticket, DePino is advising fellow gun owners to follow one simple policy: “If [a candidate] voted for gun control, we vote you out — that’s how it works. Remember the old saying that gun control used to be the third rail of Vermont politics? Well, it’s time to make it the third rail of Vermont politics again.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB. Bruce Parker contributed to this story.

Images courtesy of state of Vermont, Bruce Parker/TNR and Wikimedia Commons/Kelvinhu

9 thoughts on “Sen. John Rodgers on path to possible write-in upset, but primary voters face tough decision

  1. I served with John Rodgers in the House and in the Senate. There is no one stronger, clearer or truer to Vermont values than he. John Rodgers will not bend to political pressures, will not give up on what he has promised voters he would do. I wish there were more just like him. Good luck, John.

  2. I see a silver lining in this article. It’s not much but it might help. If all the republicans in Chittendon County cross over they could remove the biggest anti-gun senator in the senate, Phil Baruth. He is one of the 23 senators out of thirty not from Vermont. Also high on the list is the little bow tied transplant who started the gun control ball rolling in the house, Martin Lelonde who has only been in Vermont for 10 years. Seriously, if I had he means to send letters to every gun owner into these two transplants district I would beg them to cross over and vote for the opponents of these two. There are others but these to are the worst. While I have nothing against women in general, women legislators are more liberal and generally anti-gun which makes them anti-constitution. They don’t want anyone messing with their sacred abortion laws not mentioned anywhere in the constitution but they vote to strip freedoms from gun owners right to choose freedom or oppression. The slogan for Chittendon County should be Vote as if you are about to lose your freedom, crossover and remove Baruth and LeLonde! Your freedom is not for sale!

    • Excellent idea, if I remember correctly the democrats used that same tactic in the not to distant past.

    • As a bonus to my comment above, the crossover voters from the republican party could also write in John Rogers for governor. If anyone saw the democratic candidates debate on WCAX you should be scared to death that anyone of them could be governor except a 14 year old boy who displayed more common sense than the other three. Also, Scott who is a RINO (republican in name only) is a democrat light. John Rogers appears to be at least an honest democrat from another time who would honor our constitutional rights against the new progressive liberal who wants to run your life and steal our freedoms and customs as Vermonters! Scott unfortunately will beat Keith Stern we all know that. I would rather vote for a constitutional supporter even though he calls himself a democrat more than a man who turned his back on his supporters, ridicules our president, is the first governor to strip Vermonters of their constitutional freedoms, a man that dishonors his oath of office does not deserve to be awarded with another term as governor.

  3. If Dem/Progs take over the governorship, the gun laws will be tightened much more than they ever would be under Scott.

    The pro-gun folks should keep the BIG PICTURE in mind before going off half cocked.

  4. Conservatives, this is one convoluted process !!

    If all Pro-Gun owners in VT, want to replace the current
    Governor, then there better be a real game plan or we’ll
    keep what we have or maybe get some-one worst.

    No Real Direction

  5. I think that John Rodgers is our only hope in Vermont. He’s the only “politician” who is also a very real man. Facing the same trials and taxes and infringements that the rest of us are at the hands of knee-jerk reactions to any perceived wave of support that might be had. Whether ill-advised or not. Vermont politicians are not the thinking, logical, deliberative body it was intended to be. Instead they have become a bunch of thieving, manipulative conniving two-faced con artists. At least with John, you know where you stand. In plain language. He has a sense of honor. Something hard to find in Montpelier these days. Watch the videos. Ponder it. Consider what you want for the Vermont of the future. Do you want a Vermont where we can all just let each other be? Stable government with real leadership who will always tell it to you straight? Like we all THOUGHT Phil Scott was? Or do you want more government control on your private life? More taxes. Less opportunity? And more important than any of that, Do you want HONOR? Or more of the “total bull—”?

  6. There needs to be a simple, all hands on deck, well publicized strategy. If there isn’t, the votes will be divided and the liberals win.

  7. Both party’s are corrupt – forget about party and vote for the pro gun candidate. The millennial’s are too stupid to know what will happen if the government takes our guns. England and Australia already feel the pain after being tricked (by faked shootings) into giving up their guns. Now they are defenseless against rabid immigrants and other lowlife criminals.

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