MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont's Democratic Party is trying to paint Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock as a hard-right conservative by criticizing his choice of political headliners for his upcoming fundraisers: the GOP governors of Maine and Virginia.
Brock is calling the tactic nasty, negative campaigning, and says appearances by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Maine Gov. Paul LePage at his events in the coming weeks don't mean he agrees with them on every issue.
The man Brock hopes to unseat is staying out of the fray for now. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced last week he's seeking re-election to a second two-year term but said he doesn't want to engage the campaign until September.
The Democratic Party issued a statement Tuesday criticizing LePage's stands on organized labor, health care and other issues.
"If Vermonters want a taste of what Randy Brock would do as governor, they should look to Maine, where Governor LePage is overseeing a massive effort to cut essential public services, eviscerate collective bargaining, and make affordable health care even farther out of reach for Mainers," said a statement from Democratic state Chairman Jake Perkinson.
McDonnell has drawn fire from Democrats for signing a Virginia law requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion.
Brock said he planned to attend a fundraiser for his campaign with McDonnell in Washington on Monday. Events are scheduled in Vermont with LePage on July 11 and 12.
Brock said he thinks Vermont, which is in the process of moving toward a Canadian-style, government-run health care system, might be able to learn from Maine on health care.
"His solutions may not be the solutions we choose to adopt in Vermont," Brock said in an interview Wednesday. "But he's willing to come over and share those experiences, talk about what he's done and how he's done it. That's a dialogue we ought to have."
Brock said he is a "Vermont Republican" who is not in lockstep with the national party's conservative mainstream; he supports abortion rights, for example. But while he sought to distinguish his positions from those of LePage and McDonnell, the two governors won praise from the head of the Vermont Republican Party and a senior Brock campaign aide.
GOP Chairman Jack Lindley said in email that LePage had "helped create more than 4,000 new private sector jobs, pushed his state's unemployment rate below the national average, passed the largest cut tax in Maine's history, reformed welfare ... If only we could say the same thing about Vermont's Governor."
Brock campaign aide Darcie Johnston in an email lavished praise on McDonnell for improvements in Virginia's economy, and called the ultrasound bill a "common-sense pro-life bill that puts Virginia in line with a number of other states."
LePage won a five-way election for governor in 2010 with the support of tea party activists. He drew the ire of liberals by ordering the removal of a mural from the Maine Department of Labor depicting the history of the labor movement in the state.
LePage also has pushed to reduce benefits for low-income and elderly residents, to relax environmental regulation, and supports a school voucher system and merit pay for teachers.
LePage "excoriates labor, makes fun of transgendered people, he's unabashed about taking health care benefits from the poor and elderly," Perkinson said. "You do need to take responsibility for the people you invite to speak on your behalf," he said of Brock.
Both Brock and Jack Lindley, chairman of the state Republican Party, objected to Perkinson's comments.
"The name callers who dwell in the bowels at the Vermont Democratic Party might actually learn something from listening to the words of Gov. LePage," Lindley said. "And even if they don't like his ideas, the least they could do is treat this man with the same civility that our side demonstrated during President (Barack) Obama's recent visit to Vermont."
Perkinson replied that his criticisms were not a personal attack, but a commentary on LePage's policy decisions.
"We're not making an ad hominem attack, saying he's ugly or fat," he said. "We're saying this is what he does and we disagree with it."