The Lisman/Scott imbroglio

In its closing days, the Republican gubernatorial campaign has turned into a game of Crying Foul, in which accuracy takes a back seat to volume.

The latest round kicked off Friday evening, when Bruce Lisman’s campaign issued a press release crying foul over an alleged push poll aiming to convince Lisman supporters to abandon their man — and telling those who stuck with him “don’t forget to vote on August 23rd.”

The primary is, of course, August 9th. Team Lisman essentially accused Phil Scott of being behind the push poll, and called on him to denounce the apparent dirty trick.

Team Phil Scott responded by, yep, crying foul over what it called negative campaigning by a desperate opponent. And Scott’s chosen VTGOP chair, David Sunderland, waded in with an even louder cry of his own. He called on Lisman…

… to prove or withdraw an accusation that rival Phil Scott was behind a series of phone calls attempting to deceive voters.

His intervention might prove embarrassing should Lisman win the primary. Probably won’t happen, but the picture of Sunderland and Lisman shaking hands would be worth a thousand words.

So here’s what I think.

I think the push polls are real. I don’t think Phil Scott is behind them, or had anything to do with them. I suspect an outside Super PAC or some other agency unrelated to Scott. Lisman’s attempts to tie the push poll directly to Scott are very close to the line; but he’s right in saying that Scott ought to denounce the push poll instead of denying its existence and trashing Lisman.

I believe the push poll is real because, first, it’s a highly specific accusation. The Lisman campaign quotes two voters, one of whom is a Republican county chair, as having received the calls. Their accounts are virtually identical. There is no reason to doubt them.

This specific attempted fraud features prominently in the conservative Bag O’ Dirty Tricks. You might remember the notorious push poll that killed John McCain’s chance of winning the key South Carolina primary in 2000. As for the fake Election Day, communities with high minority populations have often been targeted by flyers and phone calls reminding people to vote on the wrong day — often, the day after the election. “August 23rd” is a subtle refinement, setting the date on a Tuesday in late August, which was the usual Vermont primary day in recent years.

Anyway, it’s happened often enough to be plausible.

Outside conservative groups have been making inroads into Vermont Republican politics. And although Phil Scott isn’t exactly an ideological match, he’s the only Republican with a good shot at winning the governorship. A Scott victory would be a feather in their cap. And I’m sure they see him as pliable on policy, a lump of clay for them to mold.

Does Phil Scott know about the push polling? I doubt it. I may not respect his rhetorical skills or capacity for leadership, but he is a genuinely good guy.

Still, he ought to take the accusation seriously instead of simply whining about Lisman’s attack. He ought to accept the testimony of Lamoille Orleans County GOP Chair Chet Greenwood, if no one else. At minimum, he could say “If the push poll is happening, it’s wrong, it should stop immediately.” And the ever-present clincher, “It’s not The Vermont Way.”

Of course, good guy or not, he’s got a primary to win, so he’s not giving an inch of ground to his opponent.

For his part, Sunderland was more outraged over Lisman’s attack than the apparent push polling. I’d suggest he’s got his priorities backward, but I suspect he’s secretly pleased to see that the big-money outsiders are targeting Vermont. The last thing he’d want to do is tell them to butt out.

After all, his own party barely has two dimes to rub together. Outside money, even if it’s covered in slime, would be more than welcome. Not to mention that his own party isn’t too pure to engage in grossly exaggerated attacks. Why, wasn’t it just a few days ago that they were claiming that a carbon tax would add $236 to the cost of a Burlington/Bennington round trip?

Throughout this campaign, Lisman’s attacks have contained a kernel of truth wrapped in swaths of exaggeration. In this case, he’s got the goods. Not on Scott directly, of course. But if Phil Scott is as good a guy as everyone thinks he is, he should stop complaining and publicly distance himself from the push poll.

9 thoughts on “The Lisman/Scott imbroglio

  1. Steve Beck

    Woe is me. Push Polling. Heavily endorsed by Sleaze Meisters Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. That says everything. Makes me want to run out to the lake and drown myself. Makes me not want to vote, but I already did, early and often. Not only do we live in a great country, we live in a great state!

  2. Robert Haskins

    With about 24 hours left in Lisman’s political life and an 11th hour presser scheduled for today, there is no turning back for Brucie, The self appointed smartest man in the room as someone said here, is as desperate as the guy standing on the desk at Bear Stearns. Expect his last hurrah to be filled with an ode to Corry Bliss style slash and burn politics. The post-mortem won’t be pretty for this political chameleon, the only people who enjoyed his campaign are paid staffers like Darcy the Destroyer and political newbie Sholdice (who won’t have many friends in Montpelier after savaging their Golden Boy).

    Scott wins handily as does Minter is my guess. Round two starts Wednesday and Vermonters can shower off the Lisman slime and laugh at how the Wall Streeter burned piles of money to get +/- 4000 votes.

    1. Macy Franklin

      Self-appointed smartest guys in the room never go away – especially ones with tons of Wall Street cash like Lisman. Look for he and the other supposed smartest guy in the room Dunne to go on a lecture tour together titled: “Should I Burn Two Million Dollars In My Driveway Or Run For Governor?”

  3. Hayden Dublois

    “I believe the push poll is real because, first, it’s a highly specific accusation. The Lisman campaign quotes two voters, one of whom is a Republican county chair, as having received the calls. Their accounts are virtually identical. There is no reason to doubt them.”

    First, the accounts are not identical at all. Chet Greenwood (who, by the way, is not the Lamoille County Chair, but the Orleans County Chair) said that “I do not remember her telling me to vote on August 23rd.” In contrast, the ONLY other individual who has alleged to have received a call said “The caller then said with a laugh don’t forget to vote on August 23rd.” HUGE difference, since the Lisman campaign’s claim of voter attempted suppression is contingent in large part on the accusation about the date of the primary. There were other discrepancies in their two seperate accounts, such as who the individual at the other end of the call said who they were affiliated with.

    So, what we have is two separate accounts–in a state with 700,000+ people–whose observations of the incidents are different–not “virtually identical”.

    A minimal number of accounts combined with the different stories of the accounts leads me to doubt that there is a concerted effort on the part of anyone to cause voter suppression. And when asked to provide more evidence, the Lisman campaign has simply doubled down on these two pieces of anecdotal evidence.

    Second, Scott HAS distanced himself from the push poll. To quote his recent interview with WCAX on the matter: “I know that our campaign has nothing to do with it. I wouldn’t condone it. It’s not something that I would stand for, so I believe that we’re running a positive campaign. We’ll continue to do that until Tuesday. We’ll see what happens. Let the voters decide.” He reiterated that his campaign has nothing to do with it, and that he wouldn’t condone it.

    I don’t think Lisman has “got the goods” here. If he did, 1) the state party would not have intervened as aggressively as they did, 2) multiple accounts of identical push polls would have surfaced (if there really was an attempt at significant voter fraud and suppression), and 3) the two accounts that do exist are not “identical”, or close to it. And, finally, if a PAC was at play, we probably would’ve seen the expenditures on these calls arise in a mass media report filed with the Secretary of State. But we haven’t.

  4. Wiliam Orpington

    No matter how you feel about Lisman, there is something to be said for a 400% jump in contracts going to DuBois since Scott became LG. Scott is milking the teat, and no one except Lisman thinks this is wrong? C’mon Vermont. The only way this doesn’t smack of conflict (or being illegal maybe) is if Scott requires DuBois to decline all state business if he’s elected. Scott is the guy who rails against government but isn’t too proud to milk it for all it’s worth–and collect a pay check and benefits from government too. Since he’s a business owner, does he decline state benefits to rely on the ones he lets his employees have?

    1. Faith King

      Thanks for your comment. No love lost on my part for either candidate – but Lisman criticism is spot-on. And why (why) is the press not writing about this? Asking, oh, a question or two? Right, I forgot – “This Is Vermont” and Scott is a nice guy whom everyone likes and no one wants to offend….. It’s like Alice-in-Wonderland here! Amazing. Elected official is making money doing business with the State while serving in office. But. No. One. Cares. Conflict-of-interest rules are for the Other Guy. Maybe it’s something in the water up here? Making the State dopey…

  5. Walter Carpenter

    “Since he’s a business owner, does he decline state benefits to rely on the ones he lets his employees have?”

    All good questions that should be looked into further. Does Scott hire temps, for example, to avoid paying benefits? I bet he does


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