Daily Archives: October 23, 2014

Phil Scott: the Zelig of Vermont Politics

And there he is again!

Governor Shumlin just released his fifth TV ad. This one is narrated by none other than St. Patrick Leahy, which is good solid politics. The Senator extols Shumlin’s “hard work” on items like Irene recovery, fighting opiate addiction, and promoting renewable energy.

But who’s that guy over the Governor’s right shoulder, right in the middle of the ad?


Joined at the hip?

Joined at the hip?

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, with his Serious Policy Face on.

It’s only a couple seconds of airtime, but these images are chosen with great care. There must have been another camera angle of the speech that didn’t include Phil Scott. I have to assume it’s no accident that Scott gets a cameo in the ad, just like he got to appear at Shumlin’s side in Monday’s IBM presser.

My take?

Shumlin realizes that Scott’s going to win, and he’s going to have to work with the guy. And after his early endorsement of Dean Corren, he’s doing a bit of Lieutenant Gubernatorial apple-polishing.

It’s smart politics, if not exactly party loyalty.


RSLC strikes again; dollar count approaches $300K

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national PAC devoted to boosting state-level candidates around the country, has dipped into its nearly bottomless wallet once again, dumping another $48,000 into Vermont politics. That brings their campaign-to-date total to more than $291,000.

This time, it’s on behalf of Republican candidates in the Legislature, including the VTGOP’s handful of authentic hopefuls in contested districts. The RSLC’s latest buy is “Postcards” for such worthies as Corey Parent, Scot Shumski, Michael Ly, Valerie Mullin, Joey Purvis, and Janssen Willhoit. The PAC’s official filing lists a total of 25 candidates “mentioned” in the material.

(For those interested in gender equity, that’s five women and 20 men.)

Earlier, I’d compared RSLC’s initial outlay to tossing money on a bonfire. And I still don’t think RSLC’s spending will have much effect on this campaign — especially with a lot of the money going to old-media tactics that don’t seem to work all that well. But RSLC’s continued spending could signal that it’s in Vermont for the long haul. And by RSLC standards, it wouldn’t take much money to tip the scales here. These bastards are definitely worth keeping an eye on.

I’d be more worried if they weren’t spending their money on the aerial-bombardment approach: ad buys and mailers. As Lenore Broughton discovered two years ago, a top-down, traditional-media campaign unconnected from a strong ground effort is a good way to waste money. If RSLC really wanted to have an impact, it’d pump some funds into the financially-starved VTGOP and help develop a political infrastructure.

Of course, if RSLC did that, it’d be subject to tougher restrictions on gifts to political parties. And it’d have less control over the process, which is anathema to the corporate high-rollers who dominate the RSLC donor list.

Postscript. Republicans might well argue that liberals don’t have much room for complaint, considering Gov. Shumlin’s big-dollar campaign, much of which comes from outside Vermont. And they have a point; there is a bit of hypocrisy at play. (Hypocrisy in politics??? I am shocked, shocked!) But there is a distinction between a Vermont candidate raising money wherever s/he can and controlling its use, and a big national organization parachuting into Vermont and making a power play. 

Foto Follies with Corry Bliss

Here’s a dispatch from the heartland, where longtime Republican Senator Pat Roberts is in the fight of his political life against independent Greg Orman, even though Kansas is just about the reddest of red states.

The national Republicans, seeing an unexpected threat, “cleaned out the Roberts campaign and started over with their own people,” and pumping a lotta cash money into the race.

This photo appears in the dictionary next to the definition of "douchenozzle."

This photo appears in the dictionary next to the definition of “douchenozzle.”

Those “people” included Corry Bliss, best known in these parts for driving Brian Dubie’s gubernatorial candidacy over a cliff with streetfight tactics that dented Dubie’s dubious image as a Jim Douglas-style conciliator. It was business as usual for Bliss, who somehow manages to keep getting campaign gigs in spite of the fact that he’s never, ever, not even once, been on the winning side.

Upon parachuting into Kansas, Bliss and Co. immediately turned Roberts to the right:

Roberts… has raised the specter of “national socialism” on the campaign trail and stumped with tea party stalwarts like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

So far, it’s worked: recent polls indicate that Roberts has shored up support among hard-core conservatives. So maybe Bliss will finally break into the win column.

But not if he does stupid shit like this: 

The national website Buzzfeed has revealed that the Pat Roberts for Senate campaign has been using stock photos of sunflowers from the Ukraine, not Kansas, for its public-relations materials.

The photos, traced back to Ukrainian photographer Mykola Velychko, appear at the top of Roberts’ campaign Web page, his Facebook page and campaign news releases.

Kansas is, ICYMI, the Sunflower State. This is like a Vermont candidate pouring Mrs. Butterworth’s on his pancakes.

Bliss, naturally, “sought to downplay the ‘oops’ factor.”

“Is this a joke?” Bliss told Buzzfeed. “It’s obviously a stock image used by our digital firm to reflect that Kansas is the Sunflower State. But given the many serious issues facing our country right now, I doubt voters care about this silly line of attack by Greg Orman and his liberal allies.”

To be fair, Bliss has a point. The use of stock photos is almost universal, and there’s no evidence that the voters care about it. But… Corry Bliss himself does, when it’s convenient:

Managing Republican Senate hopeful Linda McMahon in Connecticut two years ago, Bliss made political hay of a similar mistake by opponent Chris Murphy, who used pictures of a Norwegian submarine in a campaign ad instead of one from a shipyard in Groton.

In the 2012 flap, Bliss told Hearst media: “Our campaign received several phone calls from both workers at Electric Boat and veterans who served on submarines, both of which were amazed that Congressman Murphy would feature a Norwegian sub in a television ad claiming it was from Groton.”

I’ll bet he wishes the Internet had never been invented. Because thanks to The Google, it’s quite simple to follow the trail of wreckage that Corry Bliss leaves in his wake.

Dear Mr. Feliciano: You are cordially invited to bug the hell out.

Nice little scoop hauled in by Paul Heintz in his “Fair Game” column this week. No, not the lead story about the IBM reverse-sale to GlobalFoundries; but the second item, about a Sooper Secret Meeting (that managed to stay secret for less than a week) at which Dan the Libertarian Man was asked by State Sen. Joe Benning to exit the race and endorse Republican Scott Milne.

According to Heintz, “participants pledged to keep the confab confidential,” which ha ha ha. I think we can assume that Benning didn’t send Paul a press release; the more likely scenario is that somebody else in the meeting, or who knew about the meeting, leaked a few details to Heintz, who then gave Benning a call.

At which point, Benning could have issued a denial. But, in this scenario, he apparently thought to himself “What the heck,” and acknowledged the whole “confidential” thing:

The Fixer. )Image pilfered from VTDigger.)

The Fixer. (Image pilfered from VTDigger.)

“I went through the pros and cons of [Feliciano’s] being in the race,” Benning recalled. “I suggested to him that the poll numbers were not in his favor and that if he stayed in the race, the only thing for sure that would happen is Peter Shumlin would walk back in without any kind of contest.”

… “I said that even if he left the race at this stage, it’s still an uphill battle for Scott Milne,” Benning continued. “But in the event that he had any interest in a future in Republican politics, I would imagine folks on our side of the aisle would be a lot happier if there was no split in the ticket in this race.”

Well, if he had dropped out, he’d have had no choice but to pursue “a future in Republican politics,” because he’d be dead to the Libertarian Party, who would have been justifiably outraged to lose their candidate to a GOP power play.

Ethically speaking (ha ha ha), this was an iffy move. It takes guts, or gall, to call another party’s candidate into a meeting and urge him to bug out.

Politically speaking, however, Benning was right.

Remember when Feliciano looked like he was going to steal the right wing away from Milne? When his write-in bid for the Republican nomination was taken seriously, was endorsed by two of the VTGOP’s four statewide officers, and Milne actually bought TV ads to fend off the “threat”?

When there was open speculation about Milne withdrawing in favor of Feliciano?

Believed to be Dan Feliciano at his campaign headquarters.

Believed to be Dan Feliciano at his campaign headquarters.

Well, that ship sailed long ago. Feliciano has done nothing to show he’s captured anything more than a single-digit sliver of the right wing: he’s way down in the poll that actually included him, and more importantly, his fundraising performance makes Scott Milne look like George W. Bush.

Which leaves us with this. If Milne exited the race and endorsed Feliciano, the latter would get the dead-ender vote but Milne would still be on the ballot, in the Republican slot, and would still garner a whole lot of votes from loyal Republicans. Feliciano’s best case: he’d be this year’s Tony Pollina, managing to outpoll a very weak major party candidate (Gaye Symington) but getting nowhere close to the winner. His worst case: he’d get into the low double digits, pulling Milne down to about 30% and making Governor Shumlin look like a landslide winner.

There’s no way Feliciano could pull very many centrist, “sick of Shumlin” votes; his views are too far from the middle.

Milne, on the other hand, has the inherent — and substantial — advantage of carrying the Republican standard. Even though he’s run an awful campaign, he still gets a solid 35% in the polls. He hasn’t convinced very many undecideds, but he’s retained virtually all of the Republican base.

So here’s how it looks to This Political Observer: Shumlin gets in the low-to-mid 50s either way. If Milne is the active opponent, he gets into the low 40s, with Feliciano retaining most of his meager support even if he stops campaigning. (He’s still on the ballot.)

But if Feliciano is Shumlin’s active challenger, then Milne gets about 30% and Feliciano maybe 15. Or Milne 25 and Feliciano 20. Whatever. And the difference is mainly a matter of style points — of how your party will look in the history books.

Of course, this whole kerfuffle is not really about November 4. It’s about what comes after: a potential relitigation of last fall’s intra-party battle for control of the VTGOP. Last year, Phil Scott’s Moderator faction won a narrow victory. Clearly, there are those within the party who’d like a second bite of that wormy, bruised apple.

In this context, Benning’s acknowledgment makes sense. In the short run, he’s trying to further establish Feliciano as a fringer. But beyond the election, it’s a message to the True Believer faction of the VTGOP: backing Feliciano was a mistake, and we’re still in charge.

As usual, this is all speculation on my part. I certainly haven’t gotten any leaks from Benning or any other Republicans. But it makes sense to me. And this is my damn blog.