On the putative tightening of the gubernatorial race

A new poll in the Vermont governor’s race was released today. And, like another recent poll, it showed an apparent closing of the gap between Governor Shumlin and Scott Milne.

And this one came from a reputable source: CBS/New York Times/YouGov, instead of the right-leaning Rasmussen Reports.

On top of that, the new poll shows a closer race than Rasmussen. To recap, a CBS/NYT/Alphabet Soup poll taken in July gave Shumlin a 56-27 edge on Milne. The polling began, and ended after, Milne’s actual entry into the race. A couple weeks ago came the Rasmussen survey, which showed a 48-36 race. Which I pooh-poohed at the time, considering its source. But the latest survey is a tad closer: Shumlin 45% and Milne 35%, with 5% for other candidates and 15% undecided.

So, the question is, does this mean the race is truly getting close? Should the Governor be shaking in his boots?

In a word, no.

He does need to tend to his knitting, but this poll is less revealing than it seems. Three big reasons:

— Milne’s 35% reflects the hard-core Republican electorate. He’s done nothing to convince ¬†independents or Democrats. 35% is, more or less, the default number for a generic Republican candidate.

— The poll includes three names. Inexplicably, none of them is Libertarian Dan Feliciano, who has emerged as a conservative spoiler in the race. It did offer three choices, but the third is not Feliciano but Emily Peyton. If Feliciano had been included, you’d have to think he would have siphoned off at least a few percentage points from Milne — perhaps making the race 45% to 30% with 5 for Feliciano. That doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me, considering that Feliciano’s got the active support of some high-profile Republicans. (Peyton draws 2% support in the poll, with 3% opting for unnamed “other.”)

— The poll was taken between August 18 and September 2. Shumlin hadn’t even begun campaigning at the time. Sure, he held a lot of high-profile events, but he hadn’t started counter-attacking. And he’d suffered through months of bad publicity over health care, DCF, and school taxes.

What this poll indicates is that Shumlin has to generate fresh enthusiasm for his campaign and his governorship. But that’s right in his wheelhouse; he is an energetic and skilled campaigner. If he can’t spark a rebound in his poll numbers, I’ll be very surprised.

I expect Milne to hold steady in the mid-30s — unless Feliciano continues to gain ground. And I expect Shumlin to rebound into the low 50s, assuming he runs a smart campaign. This election may be closer than 2012’s (unless Milne keeps up his rumblin’, fumblin’ ways), but not by much.

But please, Governor, don’t rest on your laurels.

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