Whistling past the graveyard with the VTGOP

Here’s a happy headline in the Burlington Free Press.

Primary shows GOP ‘is very much revitalized’

The claim, from various party bigwigs, is that the emergent Phil Scott/Bruce Lisman primary “brings energy that we haven’t had” and “shows that the Republican Party in Vermont is very much revitalized.”

Well, pardon me, but I don’t buy it.

The party’s one and only viable statewide politician, Phil Scott, is finally running for governor. And a rich guy has talked himself into a candidacy. That’s it.

The fact of a gubernatorial primary proves nothing about the state of the VTGOP. Now, if they come up with viable candidates for the other statewide offices, then I’ll start listening. And if they put together a foolish slate of quality candidates for the Legislature, I’ll be impressed.

But the real test of a “revitalized” party is its ability to field a competitive organization. And on that score, the VTGOP lags far behind the Democrats.

The VTGOP’s most recent (July) report to the Federal Elections Commission shows that total fundraising for the month was a paltry $1,935. Granted, an off-year July is a bad time to fundraise; but the VT Dems took in $13,347 for the month. In terms of cash on hand, the VTGOP federal account has $28,069; the Dems’ contains $68,484.

If that’s not sad enough for you, the Democrats’ non-federal account has $23,000, while the Republicans’ is down to a mere $300. Add ‘em up, you’ve got the Dems above $90,000 and the Repubs under $30,000.

The Dems have kept themselves well above water even though they’re carrying a much larger payroll than the Repubs. Which gives them a huge organizational advantage entering the 2016 campaign.

Example: earlier this summer, VTGOP chair David Sunderland sent out an email seeking donations for a special project: updating and improving the party’s voter lists. A project to be carried out by the party’s Executive Director Jeff Bartley. Meanwhile, the Democrats have had a full-time data specialist working on that very task for the past three years. The result: the Dems’ voter lists are far more accurate and thorough than the Repubs’.

And if the July FEC report is accurate, Sunderland’s plea fell on deaf ears.

Rest assured, there’s going to be plenty of Republican money in the 2016 campaign. Problem is, most of it will go straight to Phil Scott. Most of the rest will go straight from Bruce Lisman’s wallet to Bruce Lisman’s campaign.

Republican donors are hungry for a gubernatorial winner. Phil Scott is a popular guy, and their best hope of winning since Jim Douglas. He’ll need plenty of cash to fend off the perceived threat of Lisman, and the much more real threat of a formidable Democratic candidate. He’ll get it. The party won’t.

It says here the VTGOP remains a shell of an organization, and isn’t likely to improve anytime soon. If the party manages to field good candidates for statewide offices or the Legislature, those candidates shouldn’t count on much help from the state party.

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