Why the Country’s Most Popular Governor May Be Resisting the GOP’s Calls to Run for Senate in Vermont

Republican Phil Scott of Vermont has been America’s most popular governor throughout 2021, a fact that is not lost on his party’s strategists, who are hoping to lure him into the open race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy in next year’s midterm elections.

But Scott has insisted he will not heed their calls, and given Vermont’s lack of term limits, it’s hard to see anyone uprooting him from his perch in Montpelier if he runs for re-election.

How Scott stacks up against other governors

  • In Vermont, 79 percent of registered voters approved of Scott’s job performance in the third quarter of 2021, making him the most popular governor in the country.
  • This figure is roughly in line with his approval rating in the first and second quarters of the year, when he also led the pack.

The context

Scott spokesman Jason Maulucci told Morning Consult the governor “has been clear that he will not be running for the U.S. Senate in 2022, and that has not changed” — even if Senate Republican strategists in Washington are still hoping for his candidacy.

However, Senate contests, due largely to the issue sets that imbue them, are vastly different from gubernatorial races. Just because constituents like someone as a governor doesn’t mean they want that person as a senator, especially if their party at the national level is broadly toxic in the eyes of those voters.

In Montana last year, for example, term-limited Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock was still popular in his own right after he had spent eight years advocating for public lands, Medicaid expansion and campaign finance reform. But Republican Sen. Steve Daines nonetheless defeated him by 10 percentage points — only a slightly smaller margin than Biden’s 16-point loss to President Donald Trump in the state.

Vermont’s an even tougher state for Republicans than Montana was for Democrats, and Morning Consult’s state-level polling shows just how much Scott, given the core of his support, would need to outperform the national environment in order to book a ticket to Washington.

Scott’s standing in Vermont

  • Scott’s support is strongest among Democratic voters, who are least likely to vote for a Republican next year. Nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) approve of his job performance, similar to the shares who say the same of Leahy (89 percent), President Joe Biden (93 percent) and self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (95 percent), who campaigns as an independent in Vermont.
  • Among independent voters, who constitute the bulk of Vermont’s electorate, 3 in 4 hold positive views about the job Scott is doing as governor, compared with 58 percent for Sanders, 53 percent for Biden and 48 percent for Leahy.
  • Scott has yet to announce his plans for re-election but is expected to do so sometime after the state legislature reconvenes next year, his spokesman said.

The Vermont polling was conducted July 21-Oct. 20, 2021, among 985 registered voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Correction: A previous version of a chart in this story misstated Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s party affiliation. She is a Democrat.