Further thoughts on the Lite-Gov race

My recent post on Sen. David Zuckerman’s candidacy for lieutenant governor drew a couple of intelligent comments, which prompted this return to the subject. But I’ll begin with another reminder from the archives, which creates some doubt about Rep. Kesha Ram’s appeal to Dem officeholders and party regulars.

Almost exactly one year ago, when the House Democratic caucus met to elect officers. Willem Jewett was stepping down as Majority Leader, and two women — Sarah Copeland-Hanzas and Kesha Ram — competed to replace him.

Those familiar with the House org chart know that Copeland-Hanzas came out on top. In fact, Ram withdrew before the vote. Which is what people do when they know they’re going to lose. She claimed it was “a very close race,” and cited concerns about the Chittenden-centric nature of House leadership. (Copeland-Hanzas is from Bradford.)

Okay, whatevs. But political bloggers and other tinfoil-hat wearers can’t help but wonder why her colleagues turned elsewhere for leadership. There is some sentiment that Ram is a bit of a climber, aching for the spotlight before being truly ready. That’s one way to read things. Maybe it was a simple matter of geography. But maybe there are doubts among key Democrats about Ram.

And now: letters, we get letters…

Veteran blogger nanuqFC posed a couple of good points.

— First, on whether Zuckerman’s push for public financing could even the playing field. I didn’t mention this because I don’t see it as a factor. Under current law, Zuckerman is disqualified from public financing due to his early entry into the race. He and Dean Corren are challenging the law in court, and he’s also pushing for the Legislature to reform the process. But even if he prevails on either track, it’s unlikely to come soon enough to help him in 2016. So he’s on his own, as far as I’m concerned.

— Also, nanuq noted that Dem/Prog fractiousness is not only a Chittenden County phenomenon. Which is true; it’s at its height in Chittenden, but it exists elsewhere. That’s a negative for Zuckerman’s chances. On the other hand, it’s an open primary, so nothing would stop non-Dems from supporting Zuckerman. Overall, a slight negative. (See also: the impact of the gubernatorial primary, below.)

And now meet our second correspondent, David Grant.

— He gives Zuckerman a slight edge in Chittenden County due to name recognition; so what about the rest of the state? Well, Zuckerman’s name recognition advantage is bigger elsewhere. It’s up to Ram to raise her profile. She should have the resources and the contacts to do so; whether she truly connects, remains to be seen.

Her presence in the House Dem Caucus ought to be a big help; state representatives can be the backbone of a statewide campaign. She had a strong turnout of officeholders at her campaign launch, which is a positive sign. There is, however, that failed run for Majority Leader, which makes you wonder if her colleagues will back her with enthusiasm. We shall see.

— Grant also points out the importance of building a quality campaign staff, and wonders who has the advantage there. I don’t know who’s signed on with whom. But I can say this: the Democrats have an undeniable edge in experienced, effective campaign operatives. Ram’s ability to draw on that talent pool is a significant advantage for her.

— He also asks how the gubernatorial primary will impact the Lite-Gov race. I gave a bit of an answer last time — Sue Minter might give Ram some coattails among voters who feel that men have been far too dominant in Vermont politics, which they have. But I ignored the elephant in the room: The gubernatorial primary will drive turnout higher, and will put the Lite-Gov race on the back burner.

The Democratic primary is certain to draw the largest turnout since 2010 at least. Many of those voters will have followed the Minter/Dunne contest and given little thought to Ram/Zuckerman. They’ll be making quick, uninformed decisions. Do they remember Zuckerman’s name from past Senate debates? Do they opt for the female candidate for both offices?

And there’s the surprise twist ending. I’ve sifted through this factor and that, and finally realized that they all pale in comparison to a primary that will be heavily focused on the race for governor. For every voter who carefully weighs the pros and cons of Kesha Ram and David Zuckerman, there’ll be another (or two or three) who’s flipping a coin in the booth.

So yeah, all my sound and fury signifies not much.

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