See also: Part 1, addressing the massive turnout difference between presidential and non-presidential years; and part 2, on the unhelpfully archconservative nature of the Republican presidential field.
Strangely, there was no media presence at last Saturday’s meeting of the Vermont Republican Party.
I say “strangely” because the VTGOP’s four officers were up for re-election. And they haven’t been all that successful; the party continues to trail the Democrats in finances, staffing, and organization, both statewide and grassroots.
I couldn’t be there because I was out of town all weekend, but I have heard some news.
To begin with, in a sign that Executive Director Jeff Bartley doesn’t have his finger on the pulse, he scheduled the meeting for the opening weekend of hunting season. That’d seem to be a no-no for The Party Of Traditional Vermont (And Guns), if not for a young urbanite like Jeff. From what I hear, they barely mustered a quorum.
On the topline, there was no drama. All four officers were re-elected. Maybe the conservatives were out baggin’ deer, or maybe they just don’t have much to offer. (Two years ago, their choice for party chair was John MacGovern, who’s best known in these parts for being an ultraconservative joke candidate against Bernie Sanders in 2012. If he was the conservative wing’s best option, then ugh.)
Here’s something you’ll be surprised to hear. Both gubernatorial candidates addressed the “crowd,” and from the whispers reaching these ears, Phil Scott was underwhelming. How underwhelming? Well, Bruce Lisman looked good by comparison. Apparently, Scott rolled out his usual bumpf, while Lisman actually offered some red meat to the faithful.
In the long run, that’s probably meaningless. Scott remains the overwhelming favorite for the nomination, but there might just be a few chinks in the favorite’s armor.
And since the #1 argument for his candidacy is inevitability, and he remains unpopular with many stalwarts for his studied moderation and his past inactivity in supporting other GOP candidates, any small weakness could quickly compound.
I’ve taken a detour on the way to the point of this post, which is: The VTGOP enters 2016 in a depleted state. Its monthly filings with the Federal Election Commission continue to be studies in statistical despair. VTGOP chair David Sunderland told Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck that there’s about $25,000 in the party coffers, which is awful considering (a) it began the off-year with almost twice that much, and (b) it’s recently hosted two fundraisers headlined by presidential candidates.
More bad news, per Hallenbeck: so far, there are no Republican candidates for Congress, treasurer, auditor, attorney general, or secretary of state. It’s unlikely that all these slots will remain unfilled; but it seems certain that high-profile Republicans will stay safely on the sidelines. Which means Phil Scott will be heading a ticket featuring either blank slots or the Mark Donkas of the world. No help there.
Also, despite alleged party-building activity, Republicans are still at a distinct disadvantage in the grassroots. Hallenbeck:
While the party is stepping up its recruitment efforts, Republicans still trail Democrats. Republicans say they have organized committees in 134 Vermont towns, while Democrats have done the same in 185.
Bear in mind that these are the Republicans’ own numbers, and are probably on the sunny side of reality.
Put it all together, and the Democratic nominee begins the campaign with a huge advantage over the Republican in organizational support and strength of ticket. Phil Scott won’t get any help from his party. I still think he’s the early favorite, but there are quite a few spiders in that attic.