Scott Milne, the party-endorsed Republican candidate for governor, skipped a primary debate on Tuesday held by the Essex Town Republicans.
Milne says he didn't participate in the event because it wasn't "media sponsored."
Independent Emily Peyton is seeking the Republican Party nomination, as is Dan Feliciano, a libertarian candidate, who is running a write-in campaign. Milne said he thought the event wouldn't be worthwhile because two out of the three candidates in the debate would work against the Republican nominee after the primary.
"It didn't seem like it was in our best interest to get involved in that," Milne said. "Republicans in Essex are important to us and to have dialog with. We think that will be better done after the primary."
Nevertheless, Milne is preparing for a debate with Peyton, Feliciano and Steve Berry on Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition" at noon on Friday.
The Vermont GOP didn't support the event because Emily Peyton, an independent, was invited. Under GOP rules the party can't support, financially or in any other way, a candidate who has received less than 25 percent of the vote.
Deborah Billado, the treasurer of the Essex Republicans, said in an email that she was "perplexed" by Milne's decision to back out of the debate.
"I like many others feel that this was a lost opportunity for candidate Milne," Billado wrote. "Turns out that Mr. Feliciano the libertarian candidate walked away with the prize tonight.
Ninety-seven percent of the Essex Republicans supported Feliciano in a straw poll at the debate. In a statement, Feliciano said: "If Scott Milne doesn't want to debate Shumlin, I will gladly take Milne's place in any of those debates for the General election. The people of Vermont deserve a Governor who is willing to defend his ideas and share those with voters."