Shumlin’s numbers are down. In other news, Sun Rises In East.

That’s not a Gatorade bath, Governor: it’s a big ol’ bucket of cold water.

For the first time in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s tenure, more Vermonters disapprove of his job performance than approve of it.

A new VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute survey shows that 47 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the job Shumlin, a Democrat, is doing as governor and 41 percent approve.

You know, the fact that his numbers are down is completely unsurprising. Indeed, when you consider that he only got 46% of the vote last November, the bigger surprise is that 41% of us still got Shumlin’s back.

Look at what’s happened since that disastrous November vote: Shumlin abandoned his signature proposal, single-payer health care; the state’s budget deficit continued to grow; the Democratic legislature rejected much of his third-term agenda; the government faces major challenges on school funding, Lake Champlain, and that darn budget.  It’s not exactly shocking that he’s down to 41%.

Still, the Governor is underwater for the first time in his tenure. That’s not good.

The VTDigger/Castleton poll is very thorough, and offers a wealth of subsidiary numbers. The one that ought to worry Shumlin the most: only 62% of Democrats view him positively. That means he’s lost nearly 40% of the loyalists.

His 37% support among independents looks worse — and indeed, that’s how it’s interpreted by Vermont Pundit Laureate Eric Davis. He notes that neither party can win without the independent voters, who form a majority of our electorate. But when President Obama’s approval hit a low of 40% shortly before the midterm elections, he had 33% support among independents. Shumlin does better than that. But even at his lowest point, the President still enjoyed broad support among Democrats. That’s no longer true for Shumlin.

And that’s why you hear a lot of speculation around Montpelier about a possible Democratic primary. There’s a great deal of disaffection on the left, and definitely room in the Democratic Party for a challenge to the incumbent. It still seems unlikely; Vermont politicos show a great deal of deference to incumbents, and Shumlin would remain a formidable figure in a primary.

What’s more likely, if the numbers keep getting worse, is that Shumlin himself might think better of another campaign. “More likely” but not likely; it’s hard to imagine Peter Shumlin retreating into a hidey-hole without a fight.

It is interesting, though, that House Speaker Shap Smith appears to be laying the groundwork for a statewide run. On his own initiative, he has assembled two high-powered, and heavily centrist-leaning, committees to tackle tough issues: education and economic growth. That’s a sign of someone who’s looking to (a) craft new approaches to those issues while also building consensus, and (b) establish connections and build credibility with the business community and others who might prove useful in a run for Governor.

The Vermont Republican Party certainly sees him as a threat, given their endless series of (largely ignored) press releases about the alleged failures of the “Shumlin-Shap Smith economy.”

On the other hand, we are less than five months past the 2014 election and 19 months away from the next one. A lot could happen. There are definite signs of progress in the legislature; not on the budget so far, but on a range of other issues, from education to energy to child protection to the environment.

If the legislature has a productive session and manages to close the budget gap in a reasonable way, the Governor will get at least some of the credit. If things start to look brighter in Vermont by this time next year, so will Shumlin’s approval numbers. He could still get his mojo back. And betting against him is never a good investment.

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