The Republican newcomer who almost took down Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2014 is aiming his sights at a Vermont political institution.
Scott Milne, who came within a whisker of beating Shumlin in the last gubernatorial race, said Tuesday he will make an announcement in May and is all but certain to run for the U.S. Senate.
People have been encouraging him to run for a legislative seat or lieutenant governor, but Milne, a longtime travel agency owner, said he's "focused on" Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy's seat.
"I think there's a much better opportunity to do something really good for America and Vermont by running that race than there is in the short term at least. The other ones would be building blocks to do something," Milne said.
"Not that being a state senator or a legislator or lieutenant governor is not a great public service, but, you know, I'm a travel agent and I think I got a shot at taking out the longest-serving senator in Vermont history and currently the longest-serving senator in the United States," Milne said.
"That's a much better avenue to help change things than to run for lieutenant governor so I can get in line to do something down the road, which is basically what everyone that's doing lieutenant governor is doing, right?" he said.
Milne, who lost to Shumlin by 1.3 percentage points, said Leahy's Achilles' heel is that he is "one of the most partisan" senators. According to Milne, Leahy's other weakness, ironically, is his ability to raise large amounts of campaign cash.
Milne said he would challenge the senator to run a low-cost campaign. When Milne first floated the idea last fall of running, he said he wanted to limit his campaign to $100. Tuesday he said that would be logistically impossible because of expenses like mileage reimbursements that would have to be paid even if the campaign were staffed only by volunteers.
He described Leahy as "a great Vermonter with a distinguished career." Leahy was elected to the Senate in 1974.
Carolyn Dwyer, Leahy's campaign manager, said the senator looked forward to a vigorous campaign.
"If Mr. Milne happens to emerge as Sen. Leahy's general election opponent, he won't be sneaking up on anyone this time," Dwyer said.
Though Leahy is more popular than Shumlin, Milne said he thinks he has a better chance than in 2014 because of the credibility he gained from that race.
"Last time I was totally just a travel agent coming out of nowhere," Milne said. This time, he said, he's "the travel agent coming out of nowhere" who lost the closest gubernatorial race in Vermont history.
Milne finished with 45.1 percent to Shumlin's 46.4 percent, which sent the race to the Legislature because neither gained a majority. Shumlin was declared the winner.
Milne, of Pomfret, recently sold a majority stake in the travel agency founded by his parents, Milne Travel, to a New York City firm. Under the arrangement, Milne stays on as president. He said the deal would ensure his employees would be taken care of if something were to happen to him or if he won the race.
Milne, 57, admits beating Leahy is a long shot.
"The last one almost came in. This one, I mean, make fun of me if you want — this one, I've got a shot, and I think I got a better shot coming into it clearly than I did last round, but it's definitely a long shot," Milne said.
He said running will yield benefits, win or lose.
"We're going to show up, work hard, be nice not run a negative campaign," Milne said. "If we win, it will be great. If we lose, I'll be effective in offering a voice to a lot of people and at least in a small way change things."