Phil Scott’s Four Corners Campaign

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.

Mr. Front-Runner (not exactly as illustrated)

Mr. Front-Runner (not exactly as illustrated)

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.

18 thoughts on “Phil Scott’s Four Corners Campaign

  1. chuck gregory

    It might have something to do with the mindset of the national Republican types: underlying fear of stereotypes. A few years ago, the Vermont Workers Center had a candidates’ forum to which they invited Dick Tracy, who was running for state senator in Windsor County. In his communications to me, he expressed the fear that the audience was going to be hostile. When he arrived, he was mollified to find out the audience was just curious and interested WRJ residents who wanted to see what candidates had to offer. I like to feel we sent him home a smarter man than he was when he woke up that morning. Maybe Phil “Thunder Road” Scott should understudy him…

  2. Robert Haskins

    If I had Scott’s poll numbers I’d do the same, just as any prominent democrat would do to btw at this early point. On the other hand, Mr. 4% Lisman, has gotta show up at every backyard bar-b-que AND carpet bomb WCAX & PTZ the next 4 months with the hope of breaking into double digits.

    If Lisman was a stock, Vermont would short him. He’s just the last guy to know.

  3. H. Brooke Paige

    Pot Calling the Kettle . . . !

    Rights and Democracy appears so offended that Mr. Scott has declined their offer to appear and yet they have decided to exclude the first 2016 Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate who announced back in June.

    Mr. Scott is just being selective in choosing his forums in the same fashion that “R&D” that is only inviting their Democratic “Chosen Ones!”

    I’m still waiting for the phone call ! BTW, Just in case the folks at “R&D” have forgotten how to use a phonebook my number is 1-802-883-2320.

      1. H. Brooke Paige


        “NOT TRUE ?” You are kidding, right ? I am the candidate and I have not been invited. I have even taken the time to send a request to be included and all I have heard so far is the sound of crickets chirping !

        Nice try, but your opinion and the facts are not in agreement !

        If there is some confusion they may reach out to me at 1-802-883-2320 or at – If I’m not there it will be because I was not invited, PERIOD !


  4. Kelly Cummings


    I guess I’m disappointed in Mr. Scott.

    Something just seems fundamentally wrong about a candidate, for the highest
    office in our state, not wanting to at least show up and be willing to listen to the
    concerns of his fellow Vermonters. Like Chuck Gregory pointed out, Mr Scott might just leave there more informed than when he arrived.

    Being informed is important. It takes the scary out of things.

    I wish Mr. Scott were more curious I guess.

    Seems to me good leaders should be.

    It’s not too late to change your mind Mr. Scott. You
    don’t have to be afraid. Just go.

    Just go.

  5. newzjunqie

    Full disclosure: Biased and will be voting Phil Scott 2016.

    No one should be expected to attend an entirely partisan event, where opposition is welcomed and ushered into the lions den. Not an open forum hosted by a media outlet or mixed political panel asking *all* candidates questions. And he *has* attended events like that with other top-job hopefuls.

    Cannot blame Scott or anyone really for having the good sense to smell a setup and trap. Likely amongst the most far-left in VT which is fine but possible semi-hostile audience. Cheering loudly for all-things-left with panel showcasing what their party-platform has to offer and booing the offerings and stances of the right. Who wants to be subjected to WWE/WWF-style partisan cagematch and to what end. I rather doubt anyones mind will be changed to switch vote to an R.

    And if a far rightwing group were host would D/P be similarly inclined, see it as productive and wise use of time- in a word: no. Could be spent defending Shummy, the last six years and all of the other polarizing hot-button issues which would put candidacy in a negative light as there is an unending list of extremely unpopular positions taken by the D/P lawmakers.

    Possibly using Scott for name recognition- without him there are many who will not attend. I would like to see Digger do something along this line. Why are they inviting him? To put him on the spot with gotchas? Perhaps place him, values and party in a negative light? Scott should not be obligated to attend every rinkydink venue or shallow good-clean-fun event which are not widely attended by a wide spectrums of voters.

    1. Jason Loomis

      Sorry, you can try and rationalize our savior’s decision, but if it clucks like a chicken and runs away with its wings flailing like a chicken, then it’s a chicken. You have to govern for all people in Vermont, not just the ones who go to the track or buy used tires.

  6. chuck gregory

    But was it a trap??? Dick Tracy found out the Vermont Workers Center forum wasn’t, but he was biased toward suspecting a trap. What other negative biases might a candidate have if he/she is naturally quasi-paranoid about an audience of people he/she suspects might happen mostly to be the working poor?

  7. Dave Katz

    Not for nothing, but the laughable-if-it-weren’t-so dangerous press in the US, of which Vermont is most assuredly a part, has adopted its own set of bullshit narratives in re: the GOP, one of which doubtless is going to be that Phil Scott, like his predecessor Jim Douglas, is really just such a likeable, down-to-earth Man Of The People, that you proles can safely ignore the R after his name and his batshit insane party’s stances on virtually any real-life situations we citizens face, and vote for Scott because you saw the guy with barbecue sauce on his chin. 3…2…1–wait for it. It’s already happening.

    Of course, our insipid, overpaid, childish, and downright mendaciously stupid press has only missed the biggest story of the last four decades. Let’s drop in on some credentialed conservative public intellectuals, shall we?

    “Mann and Ornstein address(what CNN, MSNBC, NYT, Post, Fox, AP, and all the rest, didn’t bother to tell you) in their latest offering, “It’s Even Worse Than It Was.”
    “It is the radicalization of the Republican party,” they recently wrote, “that has been the most significant and consequential change in American politics in recent decades.”

    Nothin’ to see here, folks. The Donalddick spewed some word salad of loutish kraykray today, so let’s keep moving.

    1. Dave Katz

      Inquiring minds can’t help noticing the “R” portion up there on the marquee after Phil Scooter’s name. When the Time Comes for the party bones to be made, will Scooter run toward The Donalddick, or away from him, into the cruel embrace of whatever unprincipled protofascist hack the panicked GOP establishment throws up, into, or under The Dick’s earth-crushing tracks? Fine if y’all want to take him seriously, but me, I can’t under just about any circumstance you could care to name, save one–Scooter changes his party affiliation to Independent.

    2. newzjunqie

      Verrry rich. And how can a D/P excuse what this regime has done to our state which I consider criminal. We will need a DOJ investigation to sort it all out. Heads should roll, Shummy and accomplices should be in jail. Everyone heading for the woodwork in dark glasses at the mere mention of “ethics committee” an eye-opener. I despise Douglas for his more subtle, but nearly as damaging antics- very sneaky but difficult to guage who was worse. We may owe Douglas an apology when it’s said and done as it was the leftwing budget wars drove him out.

      Following immersion in politics since chidhood, bouncing back and forth, left to right since just before Reagan to present. Have came to a startling conclusion- both sides are in a dead heat for who is worse and basically different sides of the same coin. And all of congress is bought and paid for- we are mere pawns on a chessboard- they win – we lose.

      Left and right insult one another by calling each other right and left. Remembering Howard Dean being called a Republican, just saw “Hillary is actually a Republican” somewhere. Some of the confusion I think, is that we are not all on the same page politically, majority, except for the ideologically pure, don’t know the math and so, no common denominator, with opinionated professorial pundits serving as referees & side judges weighing who is who & what is what.

      From where I sit, a spectrum ranging from left to right. Fringes are widening, both sides becoming ever more extreme out-fringing each other, with both merely pointing out the extremism and crazy of the other. For me, it’s all cagematch, blood sport and primarily infotainment. WWE/F tame-even boring by comparison.

      Each winner of the cagematch sees win as huge mandate, brings a new extreme, and the first task involves undoing predecessor, and their extreme. Cruz is going to carpetbomb newest boogymen Isis into oblivion. Trump will build a fence on Mexican border, however more are leaving than entering so they will have no way out. Don’t really vote *for* anyone but against who I think is worse as, face it- they all pretty much suck. Very few I actually like.

      Next big thing is here imho- emerging paradigm is Indy media, slowly but surely entering the mainstream. Basically libertarian, leans both and paradoxically- is neither. Ideally not viewing from a partisan vantage point but through a lense that sees the positive and negative of both.

      It’s no longer *what’s* wrong with this picture- but whole picture is wrong- where to begin- with neither side really fixing anything, because both sides need to win & be represented in a democracy, and it’s just not happening.

  8. newzjunqie

    Did Mr. Scott run away with wings flailing…I think not, had brains enough not to lend his star-power in first place. Comment referenced unbiased, even though I am & applicable to all parties. Did I miss something? I know of no candidate who does this sort of thing for reasons obvious to anyone with a rudimetary understanding of politics and the way elections work.

    Very well, I’ll make it official:
    I, newzjunqie, on my honor, do solemnly pledge, by affirmation, that if any leftwing hopeful(s) does then and there, decline an invitation to, or, notwithstanding, fails to attend, a duly scheduled cagematch on partisan turf, I shall not cry, whine or otherwise object. And, in aforementioned event(s), said hopeful(s) shall be held harmless.

  9. chuck gregory

    I have to say that the one Republican Vermonter I’ve met who doesn’t come equipped with, let us say, political hyperattentivity is Jack McMullen,, the man who introduced high-teller campaigning to Vermont when he put $800,000 into his own campaign for Senator (against Leahy). That was the occasion for movie producer John O’Brien to catapult Fred Tuttle to stardom in “Man with a Plan.” McMullen of course lost to Tuttle in that primary, but Republicans thereafter started pouring shekels into coffers; the very next gubernatorial race was the first in which over $1 million was spent. (That can of worms won’t be closed without going to vendor-based oversight.)

    At any rate, McMullen, rather than retreating to Galt’s Gulch and licking his wounds kept involved. Unlike virtually all the others, he actually SHOWED UP UNINVITED to a Vermont Workers Center bash just to see what VWC was like. Braver than Scott, I would say.

  10. newzjunqie

    Or dumber- McMullen not exactly the brightest crayon in the box. I think Scott, and any political follower, knows all about the various and divergent political groups in VT and no, I don’t think he fears them but need not investigate what he already knows.

    And very likely same can be said for the opposition, nothing new here- just politics as usual!


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