The Vermont gubernatorial debate last night could be considered modestly historic as for the first time in our era it featured a secession candidate. In fact, there were two candidates who stressed state sovereignty over federal dominance. These debates always feature a mainstream Democrat and Republican, sometimes exceptional individuals like Madeline M. Kunin and Howard Dean, with several motley and homegrown independent candidates tagging along. As long as I can remember and before that there has been a classic world socialist candidate, and there was one again last night. But this time he seemed strangely out of place and irrelevant as he and his era had been superseded by a new generation of radicals.

According to Rasmussen’s polling, the Vermont governor’s race is a toss-up between Republican Brian Dubie and Democrat Peter Shumlin, but Dubie and Independent Dennis Steele dominated the discussion. Dubie is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and serves in the Vermont Air National Guard. Dennis Steele, the candidate endorsed by the Second Vermont Republic, which seeks Vermont secession, kept referring to him as “Colonel Dubie.”

It was an interesting debate in that Dubie and Steele appeared to be most relevant to Vermont’s traditions. There was a time, before the hippies and before Howard Dean, when Vermont was known as the citadel of rural Yankee know-how. It was reflected in “Mad Men” last week when one of the executives in suit and tie could quickly reassure a tire company that he knew how to handle tools because he was “from Vermont.” Dubie is once again that Vermont.

Steele, a veteran and a hunter who processes his own meat, is a handsome and rustic small-businessman from the Northeast Kingdom. He was well-prepared with facts and information and proposed that the governor of the state could affect federal and foreign policy. The Second Vermont Republic was the first group to oppose the war on Iraq from a state-sovereignty position (full disclosure: I helped). The Democratic candidate said he likewise opposed the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and if he were governor he would tell the president he opposed these policies. It had the effect of highlighting Steele’s more committed and creative position and illustrated the impotence of partisan state politicians in global adventures.

Ron Paul was the Secret Santa in this debate. Ideas of the independent candidates such as a sovereign currency for Vermont, secession — they are using the phrase “liberation” now — to “control our own destiny” and a governor who could stand heroically against foreign policy are not radically new anymore, although they shocked the locals up here five years ago. We hear ideas like this regularly today on Fox Business and elsewhere.