March 15 is a crucial day for us Vermont Political Observers, capitalized and otherwise. Not only is it a potential make-or-break for Bernie Sanders, but it’s a deadline day for campaign finance reports from state candidates. And because of Vermont’s relaxed campaign finance law, it’s the first deadline since last July — an eternity in politics, especially in a campaign season that started so darn early.
We will, of course, be watching the primary returns from Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina. I expect Bernie to do better than predicted, as he almost always does; but not well enough to close the delegate gap with Hillary Clinton. The Michigan win, nice as it was, did virtually nothing to close that gap. Hillary’s won a bunch of states by one-sided margins, thanks largely to her yooooge advantage with the black electorate; in order to catch up, Bernie has to not only win a bunch of states — he has to dominate them. That would require some kind of massive unforced error by Clinton, or some kind of unexpected and decisive bad news that would hurt Clinton and help Sanders.
The statistical website FiveThirtyEight has a formula for keeping track of how candidates are faring in the hunt for delegates. It sets a delegate target for each candidate in each state. Right now, it shows Clinton beating her target by nearly a hundred delegates — not including superdelegates. Bernie’s almost a hundred below his target.
Bernie’s Michigan victory netted him a mere seven delegates. He’ll have to pick up that pace substantially and very quickly.
As for the Republicans, they continue on their Donald Trump Inevitability March. And Trump’s looking more and more like Mussolini all the time, including the truly unfortunate raised-right-arm salute.
In terms of state campaign finance reports, we’ve already gotten two: Secretary of State Jim Condos and Auditor Doug Hoffer have each raised exactly zero dollars since last July. Which is about right, considering that the Republicans are unlikely to mount any serious opposition.
The real interest will be in the two primary races for governor and the Democratic contest for lieutenant governor.
In the latter race, the deadline will provide an early indicator of the two candidates’ donor appeal. It might also indicate whether there is room for another entry in the field; if David Zuckerman and Kesha Ram have underwhelming numbers, it may encourage another candidate to step forward.
Now let’s get to the main event. On the Republican side, the number I’m most interested in is Bruce Lisman’s fundraising total. Is he getting any outside support at all? Is he committing his own money to the race? If not, it’ll be a sign that he has effectively folded his tent in the face of Phil Scott’s dominant lead in the most recent poll.
On Scott’s side, I expect a big fundraising total. He’s got the Republican establishment and a lot of interest groups behind him, and they are itching for an electoral success.
Turning to the Democrats, the most crucial figure will be Sue Minter’s bottom line. She got a relatively late start in the race, and replaced her campaign manager not long ago. Matt Dunne, meanwhile, has been campaigning for almost a year; and reported a very impressive early total in his finance report from July 15 of last year. I expect him to post a very large number.
Minter only recently won the endorsement of EMILY’s List, which should provide a big influx of funds. But it’s too soon for that endorsement to make a big difference.
The other question is, will their reports be substantial enough to keep late entries out of the race? The answer is, probably not. Former Sen. Peter Galbraith can whip out his debit card and bankroll a competitive campaign, while House Speaker Shap Smith could rally support from the Democratic donor base if he decides to jump in.
Aside from that, it’ll be instructive to see who files as a candidate for State Senate in Chittenden County. Zuckerman’s bid for Lite-Gov creates a rare opening in Chittenden’s six-member delegation. A number of prominent Democrats have been mentioned; I’ll be looking to see if any of them have raised significant money.
The usual disclaimer applies: Fundraising is not the be-all, end-all of politics. But it’s a strong indicator of appeal, and it’s awfully tough to win without money. That’s true even of Bernie Sanders.