Republican field in Windham County Senate race remains unclear

A sign welcomes voters to the Brattleboro polls. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

The unofficial top Republican vote-getter in Windham County’s state Senate primary, disavowed by Vermont GOP leaders for displaying fascist and alt-right symbols, may drop his bid for one of two open seats and instead run as an independent for U.S. Senate.

Westminster logger Mark Coester received 643 votes for state Senate in Tuesday’s Republican primary, followed by Brattleboro tax preparer Richard Kenyon with 625 votes and retired Brattleboro banker Richard Morton with 585 votes, according to the latest unconfirmed Associated Press count.

State GOP officials had hoped Windham County voters would favor the similar-looking names of Richard “Rick” Kenyon and Richard “Rick” Morton after Coester marched in Colchester’s Fourth of July parade with a flag associated with authoritarianism and a “Pepe the Frog” drawing linked to white nationalists.

“I’m encouraging every Republican to vote for the other two established Republicans in that primary,” state GOP chair Paul Dame told VTDigger last month.

But that didn’t stop people from voting for Coester, who also filed a petition to run for U.S. Senate as an independent

State law, however, prohibits anyone from appearing on the ballot as an independent if they’re a candidate of an organized political party. Likewise, a winner of a party primary can’t switch and run as an independent. As a result, Coester has a choice: Accept the Republican nomination for state Senate or decline it and continue with an independent run for the U.S. Senate.

Coester has yet to publicize a decision. But if he aims for the U.S. Senate, the Windham County Republican Committee has voted to name Kenyon and Morton as its official candidates for two state Senate seats that only Democrats have won in the past 30 years.

The Windham Senate ballot in November also will include two Democrats — Nader Hashim, a former Dummerston state representative and current law clerk, and Wendy Harrison, a Brattleboro-based traveling municipal manager — and an independent, Brattleboro Selectboard member Tim Wessel.

This year is the first in two decades that both Windham Senate seats are open, as incumbent Becca Balint has stepped down as Senate president pro tempore to run for Congress and colleague Jeanette White is retiring after serving in the 30-member chamber for two decades.

The district includes all Windham County towns except Londonderry, Stratton and Wilmington, which are part of neighboring Bennington County’s Senate district.

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Kevin O'Connor

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