The all-but-certain became reality yesterday. Outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith announced he will run for lieutenant governor. Thus making him a political rarity: a person who launches a campaign for one office, abandons it, and resets a candidacy for a different office. (He had killed his bid for governor last fall due to his wife’s illness.)
I’m not surprised. In fact, I’ve been promoting the idea since I first reported it way back on February 8.
At this point, it would be awfully difficult to re-enter the gubernatorial race. …But lieutenant governor? That wouldn’t be so hard.
… Also — and this is crucial for Smith’s personal situation — the job isn’t all that tough. He bangs the gavel in the Senate, he does some soft appearances around the state. He can pretty much set his own schedule.
He’d have a high-profile role at the center of state government. And it’s a great way to build name recognition for a future run at the top job — something Smith would still like to do.
Hey, I was right! You know what they say about blind squirrels and acorns.
At the time, I also made him the immediate front-runner in a three-way Democratic primary. That part isn’t so clear today. I’d still list him as the favorite, but Sen. David Zuckerman has put together a hell of a campaign. He’s running hard and he’s raised a fair bit of coin — especially for a candidate who originally planned to seek public financing. He has strong appeal in the Democratic left and in Progressive circles.
He’s also got that Vermont factor you can’t really pin down. There are certain politicians who seem to possess an intangible Vermontish authenticity. Phil Scott has it. Jim Douglas did. Peter Shumlin never did, even though he’s a native Vermonter. Zuckerman, in spite of his far-left politics, has a down-to-earth quality about him. Literally, because he’s a farmer; but also in an unmeasurable but substantive sense. He’s the closest current Progressive who has some Bernie about him — a potentially broad appeal to those who don’t share his political outlook.
But let’s get back to the new guy. Shap Smith has a lot going for him. He’s a sharp politician but he doesn’t have the overbearing, used-car-salesman air that plagues many politicos. He can count on the support of the Democratic Party hierarchy, and many members of the House Democratic caucus will shift their allegiance to Shap, even those who had previously endorsed Rep. Kesha Ram. He shouldn’t have trouble catching up on fundraising or building a campaign structure.
(Ram, by the way, has done well in fundraising, but my sense is that her candidacy has failed to catch on. I don’t think she has a chance in this race.)
Shap is also very strong on policy and issues. Whether or not you agree with him, he knows his stuff and he cares about it. He is a politician who’s in it for the progress and the outcome, at least as much as for his own advancement.
He’s also got substantial name recognition. Far more than Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, he’s been the legislative face of the Democratic majority. Heck, that’s why the Republican State Leadership Committee made him their number-one target even when he wasn’t even running for anything.
And I think Shap has enough of that ineluctable Vermontishness to be a successful statewide candidate. You don’t have to be an organic farmer to have a plausibly authentic appeal; you can have a Brooklyn accent (Bernie), you can look and sound like an accountant (Jim Douglas), you can be the human embodiment of a granite mountaintop (George Aiken), you can be kind of an asshole (Dick Snelling).
The race for lieutenant governor just got a whole lot more interesting. Purely on its merits, leaving out the importance of the office, it’s really more interesting than the Democratic race for governor. I’ll have more to say about the Two Triangles in a forthcoming post.