(See also part 1, which addressed the Phil Scott/Dean Corren results.)
The latest gubernatorial poll from the Castleton Polling Institute (courtesy of WCAX-TV) is a picture of stagnation, with an electorate disappointed in the incumbent, but finding no acceptable alternatives. The results are right in line with other recent surveys, with the helpful addition of Dan Feliciano clarifying the picture somewhat.
The numbers: Shumlin 47, Milne 35, Feliciano 6, and undecided at 8.
A secondary result, underpinning the above: 45% approve of Governor Shumlin’s performance, 41% disapprove. Bad numbers for an established incumbent, especially for one who was in the 60s at his height.
But while the poll is bad for Shumlin, it’s also bad for his challengers. As WCAX’s dueling analysts put it:
“I don’t think Mr. Milne has given the public a reason to vote for him and that is what Mr. Milne’s challenge is going to be in the next six weeks,” said Mike Smith, Republican political analyst.
“I think these numbers show that there’s one candidate against Peter Shumlin and that is Peter Shumlin,” said Steve Terry, Democratic political analyst.
Milne is stuck in the mid-30s. And Feliciano, for all the insider buzz about his candidacy, is only taking a small chunk of the conservative vote. Six percent is a lot for a Libertarian, but not much for someone who’d positioned himself as the real alternative to Shumlin. As I wrote before, there’s a whole lot of value in the Republican brand, and a deep loyalty among core Republican voters.
As for the independents and undecideds, they’re stuck. Given the 41% Milne/Feliciano total, I infer that Milne has gained a small number of centrists simply by Not Being Shumlin, while he’s lost a few percentage points to Feliciano among the True Believers. Overall it’s a wash, and not nearly enough to win. And the Governor is the only candidate with the resources to get his message out between now and Election Day. Although the big headline was that Shumlin is under the 50% mark, he still stands a solid chance of not only gaining a pure majority, but getting up into the mid-50s. That’d be a decent, if not overwhelming, mandate.
So, in a solidly blue state, why are Shumlin’s numbers so mediocre? The experts point to the obvious: Vermont Health Connect, the human services troubles, and the Jeremy Dodge land deal.
The first two I buy. The last, nope. I don’t think anybody outside the political media remembers that deal. After initial missteps, Shumlin dealt with it wisely and effectively. Remember “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup”? Well, in the Dodge deal, there was no coverup. There was a fast and fair resolution.
All right, so now I have to offer my own explanation. In two words:
Which is partly the VHC and human services problems. But more than that, it’s the lack of real, tangible, landmark achievements.
Which is reflected in Shumlin’s third campaign commercial, focusing on the GMO bill. Now, nice as that bill was, it was a sideshow in this year’s legislative session. And, as Paul Heintz pointed out, it’s a stretch to give the Governor much credit:
For years, Shumlin said he backed GMO labeling in concept, but believed that mandating it was legally perilous. He argued that any such attempt would suffer the same fate as Vermont’s 1994 law requiring dairy products produced with recombinant bovine growth hormone to be labeled as such. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down in 1996 and awarded damages.
But leave that aside for the moment. The bigger question: Is the GMO bill really the Governor’s signature accomplishment for 2014?
I guess it is. Given the size of the Democratic majority and the big issues facing Vermont, that’s a little bit underwhelming. And I think the voters are underwhelmed. One of Scott Milne’s best lines in yesterday’s WCAX debate concerned school funding: “The Governor had huge approval ratings and big majorities, and he didn’t do anything.”
Shumlin’s signature issue, single-payer health care, is still a mystery shrouded in an enigma. He can’t brag about it, because he hasn’t done it yet. Or even offered a plan. That’s not exactly motivational.
There are solid reasons to defend the Governor’s record. He’s dealt with the aftermath of the 2008 recession and Tropical Storm Irene. He’s had to pull rabbits out of his hat to keep the state budget under control as the federal stimulus funds ebbed away. He’s also taken some good, incremental steps in areas like human services and college affordability. The minimum wage hike was nice. He’s done a lot on renewable energy. His opioid initiative holds great promise, but has yet to bear fruit.
Those are not accomplishments to be sneezed at. They are strong indications of substantial administrative competence. That’s important. But it’s not inspirational.
I think that, more than anything else, Vermont voters are uninspired. When Shumlin launched his active campaign in early September, his challenge was to light a fire in his supporters — and perhaps even in himself. So far, he hasn’t really done it.
IF he does it between now and Election Day, he’ll get into the mid-50s. If he doesn’t, he’ll limp across the finish line in the 50-52% range.