High stakes for a low-heeled job

It may be Vermont’s “bucket of warm piss,” in the unexpurgated words of John Nance Garner, but the campaign for Lieutenant Governor is going to absolutely shatter all previous records. In fact, the record will almost certainly fall before the party primaries in August.

Two years ago, Phil Scott and Dean Corren combined to spend about $433,000 on their respective campaigns. That set a new high water mark for the post. So far this year, about $400,000 has been contributed to Lite-Guv hopefuls. And for goodness’ sake, it’s only March!

Democrat Brandon Riker managed to raise $188,000 before dropping out, which tells you something right there. A newbie candidate raises almost as much by March 15 as Phil Scott did for all of 2014 — and feels compelled to withdraw in spite of his bankroll.

The remaining Democratic candidates, Kesha Ram and David Zuckerman, are closing in on the $200,000 mark combined, with no end in sight.

On March 15, Zuckerman reported raising $65,000 — but he had only just begun to seek gifts of more than $50. It was only a few days earlier that a federal judge’s decision disqualified Zuckerman from seeking public financing. Before that, Zuckerman had confined himself to seeking the $50-or-less donations that would help him achieve public financing. Since then, his operation has gone into overdrive — he collected roughly $30,000 in the last few days before March 15, and took in another $10,000 in the ensuing week. Clearly, he’s just getting started. (I wonder if he’s surprised by all of this. Otherwise, why bother with public financing?)

For her part, Ram managed to crack six figures by March 15. And today, she won the coveted support of EMILY’s List, the national PAC for liberal women candidates. That should turbocharge her fundraising.

So we have two candidates (plus an ex-candidate) who are each far ahead of anyone in any preceding campaign season — and are almost certain to outpace themselves in coming months. This is so unprecedented, I have no idea where it might go; but the Democratic primary could cost a million dollars or more, and the winning candidate shouldn’t have much trouble raising more money for the general election. All this for a largely ceremonial position.

Speaking of which, poor old Randy Brock. The Republican hopeful raised about $30,000 by March 15. That’d be a good total in any other year. This time, he’s likely to find himself vastly outspent by his Democratic opponent — unless he pours his own wealth into the race, as he did in his bid for governor in 2012.

Where will it end up? It’s easy to see the campaign for lieutenant governor costing more than $2 million. A decade ago, that would have broken records for a gubernatorial campaign.

Choose your adjectives. Amazing. Fascinating. Stupefying. Ridiculous. Troubling. Appalling.

Whether it’s outside money, inside money, or both*, the age of cheap politics in Vermont is over.

*It’s both.

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