"In the weeks following another successful legislative session, I had a chance to reflect on the progress that we've made since taking office," Shumlin said Monday. "As I consider the path that we're on, and I look ahead to the critical work we still have over the next 18 months, I believe that we will have accomplished, and in many ways, in many cases exceeded my expectations of the work we set out to do when I became governor. I am announcing today for those reasons that I will not be a candidate for a fourth term in 2016."
Now, Democrats face a puzzling prospect: Even in deep-blue Vermont—the state that repeatedly picks socialist Bernie Sanders as its senator—they may lose the governor's mansion to a Republican.
Before Shumlin announced his decision Monday, Republicans were pinning their hopes on their only statewide elected official: Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is exceptionally popular and widely considered capable of running competitively for higher office. Scott told local TV station WCAX last week that he was considering running for governor in 2016, and said "I think my decision won't have any bearing on whether [Shumlin] runs or not."
Shumlin was so weak that he also faced the threat of a potentially contested Democratic primary, and the possibility of an independent challenge from a Progressive Party candidate. Democratic state House Speaker Shap Smith and former state Sen. Matt Dunne expressed varying degrees of interest in seeking statewide office next year, and did not rule out gubernatorial bids. Smith said he would not run against Shumlin in a primary. Dunne expressed interest regardless of what Shumlin's plans were.
Former Shumlin adviser Bill Lofy said without Shumlin in the race, he expects Rep. Peter Welch to face heavy pressure from Democrats to run. "Congressman Welch would be the prohibitive favorite. He has a proven record of representing Vermont successfully in Congress and I think would cause any other potential candidate for governor to take pause before jumping into a race," Lofy said.
Welch, however, is far from certain to jump into the race: "It's likely Congressman Welch will seek reelection to Congress, but this news comes as a surprise, so he will be taking the time he needs to thoughtfully consider how he can best serve Vermonters," said Welch chief of staff Bob Rogan.
One Vermont Democratic political operative described a potential contest between Scott and Welch as a "battle royale" of the variety most don't expect from the solidly blue state.
Shumlin said Monday that he will "fight to ensure that whoever takes my place as governor is a Democrat."
One source at the Republican Governors Association told National Journal that the group was planning on committing serious resources to the race in 2016 had Shumlin run, but in an open race the money spent there will depend on who the Democratic nominee is and the strength of their candidacy, since Shumlin was viewed as uniquely vulnerable.