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.

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