At this point in the campaign, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is the presumptive front-runner. He’s got name recognition and personal popularity; he’s got the solid backing of the business/Republican community anxious for a winner.
And he’s campaigning like a front-runner: maximizing appearances before friendly audiences and minimizing exposure to open-ended affairs that might lead to missteps or embarrassment.
The latest example: the left-wing group Rights & Democracy organized a pair of events for gubernatorial candidates on April 9. Accepting the invitation: all three Democratic candidates, plus Republican Bruce Lisman.
Rejecting: Phil Scott.
What’s the matter, Phil? Can’t take the heat, so you’re staying clear of the kitchen? I guess not. Scott’s formal response to R&D:
“I’m not convinced my candidate would get fair and equal treatment at a forum hosted by a very liberal organization. Therefore, we would like to respectfully decline participation in your organization’s forums,” wrote Scott Campaign Manager Brittney Wilson.
She has a point. But heck, Bruce Lisman’s gonna show up.
Besides, if Phil Scott claims to have the necessary cojone quotient for being governor, shouldn’t he be able to handle an unfriendly crowd?
This isn’t the first example of the Scott campaign backing away from potential embarrassment. A much more trivial, and thus damning, example comes from January’s Waterbury Winterfest. One of the events was a broomball game featuring all the major candidates for governor — except Phil Scott.
At the time, his campaign claimed a scheduling conflict. But a subsequent public records request reveals otherwise. Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck:
… Scott’s longtime friend and adviser Dick Wobby nixed the idea.
“There really is no upside,” Wobby responded to Scott’s email. But he added, “The image of Bruce or Matt skidding across the ice, well that might be worth it.”
Nice one, Dick.
Jason Gibbs, a former aide to governor Jim Douglas who is volunteering for Scott’s campaign, followed up with Scott’s campaign staffer, Brittney Wilson: “Just tell her unfortunately we have a full day on the 29th. But it’s a creative idea.”
In the grand scheme of things, this really is a nothing-burger. But it’s noteworthy due to its very pettiness: is Mr. Real Man Race Car Driver afraid he’ll fall down go boom on the ice? Really?
More broadly, there’s the campaign schedule heavily larded with (a) appearances before friendly audiences and (b) nonpolitical “feel-good” events like chili cook-offs and pie contests.
And then there’s the real meat of a campaign: the policy ideas, the platform. Phil Scott’s remains an undercooked, bland mess: nonspecific calls for lower state spending, insipid generalities, generic attacks on the Shumlin Administration. He recently put out a TV ad attacking Vermont Health Connect; it consisted entirely of footage from his campaign launch last fall.
I mean, it was nice video. Enthusiastic crowd, good ambience. But really? Nothing new to say since then?
Phil Scott’s playing it close to the vest. He’s running the old Four Corners Offense — run down the clock, minimize risk. But he can’t do that for the next seven months.
Also, it’s been years since he faced a competitive race. He’s cakewalked to re-election the last two cycles. An instructive example of the possible consequences: Jeb Bush, who came a cropper because his political muscles had atrophied. He thought he could have nomination handed to him; when he was actually challenged, he failed.
This would be a good time for Phil Scott to put in a few political workouts, get himself in shape for the biggest race of his political life before the coverage gets more intense and the voters are paying attention. The “upside” in taking a few chances, as Dick Wobby fails to realize, is a stronger, more capable candidate for the fall campaign.