MANCHESTER — Lawrence Zupan drove home from Montpelier last Wednesday, Aug. 29, with the Vermont Republican Party's nomination for the U.S. Senate.
That might have been the easy part.
The longtime Manchester resident and real estate agent will be running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), arguably the state's most popular politician, and numerous independent and third-party challengers, including Brad Peacock of Shaftsbury. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Wednesday night at a hotel and conference center in Montpelier, Zupan received the nomination over Dan Feliciano of Essex Junction, the favored nominee of Republican primary winner Brooke Paige of Washington.
Paige defeated Zupan by 422 votes in the Aug. 14 primary, and won five other GOP statewide nominations while he was at it. But the Secretary of State's office denied Paige the option of designating nominees for five of those seats, saying that was the party's right.
Zupan said he received 56 votes to 12 for Feliciano, who ran as a Libertarian candidate in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Zupan attributed his success to his efforts in reaching out to town Republican committee members across the state during the primary.
"It was a vote of confidence," he said. "Now we're going to see Sen. Sanders' response to my challenge."
That challenge would be Zupan's offer, which he announced last week and planned to formally send to Sanders on Tuesday, to engage the incumbent in eight debates statewide.
"Look at what's at stake," Zupan said. "For someone who needs to be reintroduced to the voters of Vermont, that's the least he can do."
Vermont voters have embraced Sanders since he won first won election to Congress in 1990. The former mayor of Burlington, Sanders ran away with the 2016 Democratic state primary for president with 86 percent of the vote, and defeated Republican challenger John MacGovern in his last U.S. Senate re-election bid, in 2012, with 71 percent of the vote. He last lost a statewide election 30 years ago, in an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House.
However, Zupan is undeterred.
"I've climbed mountains before in my life and I do believe everything I've done in my life ... prepared me for the next 63 days when I bring forward superior ideas to Senator Sanders' ideas," he said.
"I will beat him because of the ideas based on free enterprise, liberty, individual responsibility and opportunity, which spring from the promises in our founding charters," he said. "My experience all my life has been that government intervention and appropriation of the fruits of one efforts are contraindicated when one is pursuing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
An email seeking comment from Sanders' campaign on Zupan's debate proposal was not returned by press time.
Sanders and Zupan are not alone in the race. Peacock, an independent, Liberty Union party candidate Reid Kane of White River Junction, and six other independents are listed by the Secretary of State's office as qualified candidates for Sanders' seat. Peacock entered the race as an independent in January.
Sanders also has money to spend.
To date, according to public data on the U.S. Federal Elections Commission website, Sanders had $8 million in cash on hand as of July 25, according to FEC data. He has raised $7.5 million since 2017 and incurred $3.2 million in expenses between Jan. 1, 2017 and July 25 of this year, according to the data.
The Zupan for Senate Committee LLC had raised $6,740 as of Monday. Sept. 3, according to the FEC site.
The largest donor to the Zupan campaign as of press time was Lenore Broughton of Burlington, who has given $167,100 to Republican candidates across the country and conservative political action committees (PACs) between Jan. 1, 2017 and Monday, Sept. 3., according to FEC data. Within that time frame, Broughton donated $4,300 to Zupan's campaign and $981.83 in "in-kind payment" for a videographer, according to the records.
According to OpenSecrets.org., the bulk of Sanders' war chest collected since 2013 — $6.7 million, or 78 percent — is from individuals giving $200 or less. In that time he's netted $1.7 million in large individual contributions, with the largest coming from the University of California, a pair of PACs, MoveOn.org and America Works, and two labor unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the Communications Workers of America.