Okay, so I’m on the air live this morning on The Mark Johnson Show. House Speaker Shap Smith, openly considering a run for governor but waiting to see what Congressman Peter Welch would do, has just left after a 45-minute interview. I’ve got Randy Brock, once and (possibly) future Republican candidate, sitting with me in the studio waiting for his interview to start.
And then, in rapid-fire succession, the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality is released… and I find out that Welch has just announced he will not run for governor, but will instead seek re-election to Congress.
Trust me, I didn’t need any coffee to get through that hour. I missed the chance to break the news to Speaker Smith, which would have just been the most fun thing ever. (As of this writing, I’m seeking reaction from him.) I did get to break the news to Brock, which was pretty fun itself.
Live radio, I love thee.
Brock, by the way, said that Welch’s status was one factor in his consideration, but only one of “300 or 400” things he’s weighing. But he sure seemed like he’s rarin’ to go.
Back to the main issue here. How does the Welch decision affect the race?
First, it closes the door to any high-profile candidacy for Congress. No Democrat will challenge Welch, and the Republicans are likely to fall back on Mark Donka or someone like him. This is bad news for Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, who seemed to be pointing toward a Congressional candidacy in her speech at the Curtis Awards dinner last week.
She has two options, both pretty decent. She could enter a crowded field in the gubernatorial primary and try to slug it out with the likes of Smith and Matt Dunne. She’d have an edge as the highest-profile female candidate. (Unless a rival pulls a Susan Bartlett and convinces another woman to enter the race. Ahem, “allegedly” pulls a Susan Bartlett.)
She could win that battle. But if she “settled” for the Lieutenant Governor nomination, it’d probably be hers for the asking. Her odds of actually winning the office depend on whether Phil Scott runs for re-election. If he’s out of the race, she wins. If he’s in, she still has a good shot.
If I were her, I think I’d go for the brass ring. A lot of politicians have played the strategic waiting game only to see opportunity pass them by. Even in a crowded field, she’d be a formidable candidate.
Post-Welch, the Democratic race for governor probably boils down to Smith, Dunne, and possibly Minter. Doug Racine is also out there; I interviewed him on the Mark Johnson Show last week, and while he’s actively considering a run, I got the sense he’d just as soon give it a pass — if an acceptable candidate emerges:
“I’m looking to see who else is out there. I’m looking for somebody to be governor, somebody I could support, somebody who I think would represent my views and my view of government, how government should operate. It doesn’t have to be me.”
That sounds more like someone who’s undecided but leaning no, than someone who’s undecided but chomping at the bit.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s about it for serious contenders. Deb Markowitz has already pulled out. Peter Galbraith has been mentioned, but hahahaha. He’d be the Donald Trump of the race. Like Trump, he’s got the money to self-fund a campaign. Like Trump, he’s a narcissistic ass who has far more detractors than supporters among the party faithful.
Okay, to be fair to Galbraith, he’s a more serious figure than The Donald. But he’d be outclassed in the 2016 Democratic field.
I have no clear idea how to handicap a three-way race featuring Smith, Minter and Dunne. All three have their strengths:
— Smith has a solid political reputation, good connections, and most importantly, he’d effectively have a statewide grassroots organization courtesy of House Democrats, most of whom would presumably support him.
— Minter seems to be The Anointed One. There are a lot of people who’ll support her strongly, whatever office she seeks. And being female is a definite asset with the Democratic electorate.
— Dunne? You got me. I wasn’t actively following politics in 2010, when he finished a strong fourth in a formidable five-way primary. He’s been out of politics since I started blogging about it. It’s kinda weird that a guy who’s been completely absent for five years can be instantly taken seriously as a candidate, so I’ll stipulate that he’s got significant assets. I just don’t personally know what they are.
For now, let’s just say that Welch’s withdrawal paves the way for a strong Democratic race. In 2010 the Dems managed to pull off a spirited but nondestructive primary; they show every indication of being able to do it again next year. Whoever emerges with the nomination will be a strong candidate.
As for the general election, Phil Scott remains the very early favorite — should he choose to run. (And nobody seems to know what he’s really thinking.) But he’s not a decisive or overwhelming favorite; the Democrat will be a serious contender. And in a Presidential year, with Pat Leahy and Peter Welch anchoring the ticket and either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders at the top, and no Peter Shumlin to drag the party down, we’re poised for a big Democratic turnout. If I were a betting man, I’d take the underdog odds on the Democrat.