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Turning the Green Mountain State(house) Blue

The incumbent governor of Vermont–one of only two states remaining (New Hampshire) with two-year terms for its governor, and a state with no term limits–is Republican Jim Douglas, a popular moderate in the decidedly liberal Green Mountain state. But Douglas announced this week that he will not seek a fifth term. Incredibly, his retirement creates the 20th–yes, you read that correctly, 20th–gubernatorial open seat for 2010.

It also creates a huge pickup opportunity for Democrats because, regardless of the national atmosphere next autumn, this is a state where Democrats dominate the legislature and Barack Obama won by 37 points statewide and carried every single town. “The Republican Party’s cupboard is bare with regard to potential successors to Jim Douglas,” University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson told a local television reporter. “Douglas is the last of the Aiken, Stafford, Jeffords wing of the Republican party in Vermont. You know, soft spoken, social liberal moderates, fiscal conservatives.”

Though Douglas is certainly no Mark Sanford, earlier this year he did, however, veto the state’s same-sex marriage law. (Amazingly, the state legislature overrode that veto with the requisite 2/3rds majorities in each chamber…in how many states in America could that happen, one wonders?) So, while the replacement of Douglas with a Democrat in 2011 would not quite be akin to say, Ted Strickland winning the seat vacated in Ohio by the horrible and horribly unpopular Bob Taft, it potentially changes state politics and would also lock down yet another New England victory for the Democrats in the steady conquest of that region some predicted earlier this decade would and should happen.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic Governors Association is licking its chops, immediately elevating Vermont to “top-tier” status on its target list. In a statement released yesterday, DGA executive director Nathan Daschle said, “With such strong leaders in this race, we have an excellent opportunity to win back Vermont’s governorship. As a top-tier pickup opportunity for our organization, we are committed to ensuring that a Democrat wins this race in 2010. Our political program will dedicate the same attention and day-to-day involvement that other top-tier states such as Florida and California receive.”

“This does shake up the political landscape in Vermont,” Republican state senator Randy Brock admitted to the Burlington Free Press, in a mild understatement. Brock told the Free Press–which has more on the potential candidates for both parties here–he would “defer” to Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie of Essex, should Dubie decide to run.