With the entry of Shap Smith into the race for lieutenant governor, the two high-profile Democratic primaries have assumed weirdly parallel dimensions.
Each has three candidates.
Each has two men and one woman.
Each has two figures from the Democratic mainstream (one man and one woman), plus one man with a more independent streak.
(Matt Dunne may argue about the “mainstream” characterization,but let’s put it this way. He’s been a Democrat for quite a while. He held elective office as a pure-D Democrat. He’s not a narcissistic cuss like the other man in the gubernatorial race.)
There are parallel dynamics and uncertainties. Each woman is, obviously, in a position to capitalize on the pro-woman vote. (A lot of us want to improve Vermont’s woeful record on electing women to high office.) If she can do so and her two opponents split the “male” vote, she has a path to victory.
Each woman has also gotten off to a rocky start, and (so far) failed to galvanize broad support. Not that any of the men has been setting the world on fire.
Each of the independent-minded men hopes to establish himself as the liberal and progressive (and Progressive) choice in his race. If he can do so and his two opponents split the “mainstream” vote, he has a path to victory.
Each of the mainstream men should be expected to lead the pack in fundraising.
Each of the “mainstream” men has a four-letter first name and a five-letter last name. (C’mon, nobody calls him “Shapleigh.”) Each woman has less than ten letters combined in their first and last names. Each of the independent men has the longest name of the bunch.
At roughly this point, the triangles diverge. The candidates in each set have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.
One of the truly odd aspects of this race is that the two strongest candidates might be running for Lite-Guv. Of the two “indie” hopefuls, Zuckerman is a much better candidate than Galbraith. Policywise, he’s got a much stronger progressive/Progressive profile; in terms of personality, he is far more appealing.
The contrast between Smith and Dunne isn’t so clear, but let’s say they were running for the same office and starting at the same time. Smith would be the favorite on name recognition alone. As it stands, Dunne has a one-year head start, and that’s why Smith is running for Lite-Guv.
At least Sue Minter outshines Kesha Ram. Otherwise, I might suspect we’d been pulled into an alternate universe.
Although each race has many similarities, each has a different dynamic. Both are tough to predict.
The race for governor. Do Dunne and Galbraith split the “men’s” vote and allow Minter the inside track? Do Dunne and Minter split the Democratic vote and allow Galbraith to sneak by on the left? Does any one of them create separation via policy or personality and grab the seemingly vacant front-runner’s spot?
If you ask me, right now, Dunne and Minter are very close with Galbraith bringing up the rear. It’s telling that Galbraith failed to impress the Progressive Party any more than his two competitors. That’s significant, since I don’t think he’ll get much support from mainstream voters or Democratic loyalists. If the primary were today, I’d say Dunne and Minter are both in the high 30s and Galbraith in the low 20s. It’s still early, and the vast majority of voters haven’t started paying attention yet.
Dunne has a slight and utterly intangible advantage over Minter, because I think he’s more likely to carve out a unique and appealing image. She’s saddled by her association with Governor Shumlin.
The race for lieutenant governor. There hasn’t been time to establish any sense of a dynamic in the new three-way contest. But here we are, right now, so here’s what I think. Smith and Zuckerman will fight it out, and Ram will be a poor third. Nothing against her, but she’s not in the same league in terms of experience and name recognition. Her campaign has been kind of a mess, although she’s done well in fundraising. She is smart and ambitious, and she’ll make a respectable showing, but she won’t win.
Between Smith and Zuckerman, it depends on turnout. Smith has the Democratic vote, Zuckerman the Progressive and progressive vote. This will be Vermont’s first August primary, which is likely to depress turnout — but we’ve also got competitive races at the top of the ticket, which is likely to engage more voters.
If turnout is low, Zuckerman has the edge because his supporters are more passionate. If turnout is — well, not “high,” but at least respectable, then Smith has the edge.
The turnout seems to be less important in the gubernatorial primary because, as far as I can tell, none of the three has an advantage in passion or engagement. Galbraith’s got the anti-wind vote sewn up, but that’s not enough to carry anyone to victory.
Okay, here goes. Matt Dunne in a squeaker over Sue Minter. Shap Smith by a somewhat healthier margin over David Zuckerman. Ram begins on Stage Two of her political career; Galbraith returns to his manse, muttering into his snifter of brandy about ungrateful Vermonters failing to recognize his superiority.
Subject to change, and I wouldn’t bet more than a dollar on either prediction.