Politics

Who is running Christina Nolan’s US Senate campaign?

Christina Nolan smiles after filing her petition for candidacy for U.S. Senate at the secretary of state's office in Montpelier on Wednesday, May 18. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

It’s one of the most routine questions to ask about a campaign: Who’s running the show? But in the case of former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan’s bid to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that’s been an unexpectedly difficult question to answer.

The Republican’s campaign generally communicates with the press through an anonymous email account that does not include a phone number. VTDigger sent emails to the account multiple times over the past two months asking for a list of staff and never received a response. 

It is highly unusual for high-profile political campaigns not to say who is working on the candidate’s behalf. Many campaigns even send out announcements, unprompted, listing key staff in charge of field work, finances, communications and the overall operation. A campaign’s personnel list provides insight into not just practical strategy but also who is influencing the candidate’s basic message and platform.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., the Democratic favorite to face Nolan in the general election, should she prevail in the Republican primary, names and quotes co-campaign manager Ryan McLaren in most press releases. Welch’s campaign provided a list of all six full-time staffers when asked by VTDigger. (McLaren is a longtime Welch employee. Arianna Jones, co-campaign manager, worked on U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bids in 2016 and 2020.)

Even the campaign of Brock Pierce, a cryptocurrency mogul and former child star bankrolling his own independent U.S. Senate run in Vermont, replied within hours of an emailed query to offer a campaign manager’s name: Ben Kinsley. Vermont political insiders likely know Kinsley from his time with Campaign for Vermont, a right-leaning advocacy group.

Politico has reported that former Trump White House aides Steve Bannon, Boris Epshteyn, Steven Cheung and Stefan Passantino were also key players in the Pierce campaign. The site later reported that Pierce said he had since parted ways with the former president’s staffers over “ideological differences.” 

Kinsley said in an interview that the Pierce campaign was still in the hiring process. The candidate, who has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money on the campaign, is still traveling the state, Kinsley said, to decide whether or not he will actually put his name on the ballot.

The Nolan campaign announced Wednesday that former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas would serve as campaign chair — typically an unpaid, ceremonial role. 

Douglas said Tuesday night that he wasn’t sure if Nolan had even hired a campaign manager yet. The candidate herself had reached out to him to see if he would get involved. And Douglas suggested that she may not be fully staffed up, given her relative disadvantage in fundraising thus far.

“She doesn't start with a war chest as some candidates do, so she's trying to save every possible dollar for ads and other expenses that she will incur as the year unfolds,” the former governor said.

Jay Shepard, Vermont’s representative to the Republican National Committee, appears to be playing a prominent role in the Nolan campaign. The operation paid Shepard’s consulting firm, Junction Consulting, just over $16,000 from January through March, per campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission. Shepard also appeared alongside Nolan as she filed her official candidacy paperwork in Montpelier on Wednesday.

Shepard told VTDigger that he was “coordinating a lot of the people involved” but should not be considered a campaign manager. The campaign does indeed have paid people on staff, he said. Asked who, Shepard at first said he would “rather not get into the details of that,” but then later said that he would ask staffers to see if they were comfortable sharing their names.

“I'll be honest with you — a lot of them consider themselves to be Democrats that are working very hard in this campaign, so I want to make sure that they're OK with being public about some of these things,” said Shepard, a staunchly pro-Trump and anti-abortion figure in Vermont Republican politics, who added that he might even be “the only conservative on the campaign.”

Former Gov. Jim Douglas, right, and Christina Nolan speak about Nolan's campaign on Wednesday, May 18. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

FEC filings through March provide some additional insight into who is working with Nolan. Admount Marketing, a firm managed by Jack Moulton, the former Vermont Republican Party executive director and a former aide to U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY., has been paid $9,200 for digital consulting services. South & Hill Strategies, a New Hampshire firm founded by Republican strategists Colin Reed and Lizzy Guyton, had been paid $3,000 for communications work. Punch Films, an Indiana media company, received close to $12,000, also for digital media. 

Asked Wednesday if her campaign could provide a list of staff, Nolan replied that it should be no problem.

“I don't see why we can't get you that,” she said. As of Friday, the campaign still had not.

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is a political reporter for VTDigger, covering Vermont state government, the congressional delegation and elections. She previously covered education for Digger, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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