So the inevitable happened in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Phil Scott won.
The sad thing is, Bruce Lisman actually did pretty darn good. He got all the way from four percent in a February poll to 39 percent in the primary. That’s respectable, really.
But it leaves you wondering, again, what the hell? Why did Lisman challenge the widely-beloved Republican Great White Hope? Why did he pump two million Bruce Bucks into a doomed effort?
He does have some lovely bottled water to show for it. That’ll taste nice, as a visual reminder of the second-worst day of his life. (And a metaphorical reminder of how he flushed a fortune down the drain on a wasteful, futile candidacy.)
I’m assuming his worst day was when Bear Stearns collapsed, although this is a more directly personal ignominy. The Wall Street meltdown was merely a global calamity; this is the people of Vermont telling you to your face, “We don’t want you, now please go away.”
Maybe someday these rich white guys will get it: Vermont doesn’t take kindly to people who try to buy popularity. Rich Tarrant, Jack McMullen, Bruce Lisman. Peter Galbraith.
Vermont must look like easy pickin’s to them. Small state, cheap media buys, I’ll come in and blow some smoke, the rubes will eat it up.
So now the Republicans, at long last, have their Prince Charming.
And pretty much damn-all else.
Statewide ticket? Randy Brock has a shot, if David Zuckerman can’t broaden his appeal beyond the Dem/Prog left. But Brock hasn’t won a statewide election since 2004, and owns the rare distinction of losing a race for a low-visibility office as an incumbent. To Tom Freaking Salmon.
Below Brock, the Republican ticket is a wasteland of no-hopers and blank lines. (No, Deb Bucknam will not beat TJ Donovan.) They did score one decent victory, by finally ridding themselves of The Human Stain, Norm McAllister. With Carolyn Branagan as one of the Franklin County senate candidates, they stand a good chance of retaining the seat.
On the other hand, they’ll lose one in Chittenden County, so there’s that.
The Republicans are certain to extend their age of stagnation in the Legislature, leaving Phil Scott, if he wins, a man alone. A Scott administration promises to be a rerun of the joyless Jim Douglas years: a Republican Governor in perpetual stalemate with a Democratic Legislature.
If he loses, then it’s lights out, VTGOP. Bruce Lisman will suddenly look real good for 2018.
So, will Phil win?
Odds are, yes. But the odds are shorter than they once were.
Lisman didn’t win, but his negative campaign put some dents in Scott’s fenders and pointed the way to potential Democratic attacks. I doubt we’ve heard the last of the inherent conflict of interest with Scott’s construction company bidding on state contracts. His self-described “blind trust” is a joke; everyone will know who’s involved when DuBois Construction bids on a highway job. I really don’t think Scott would do anything corrupt, but it’s a terrible look, and violates any reasonable ethics standard you could name.
Gee, too bad we don’t have an Ethics Commission. Thanks, Legislature!
In the most recent VPR Poll, Scott had a substantial edge over Minter in name recognition — but they were dead even in favorability. It’s not hard to close the recognition gap; it would have been much tougher to catch up in favorability. But Minter won’t have to.
There’s also Scott’s own defects as an orator and the scantiness of his platform. He basically skated through the primary; now the question will be, can Sue Minter pin him down? And will the media look past the good-buy exterior and really explore Phil Scott’s policies and capabilities?
Don’t forget that this is a presidential year, which raises the bar significantly for any Republican candidate. There’s an argument that Minter’s presidential bump may be smaller than usual because Bernie Sanders has so many disappointed supporters in Vermont. But honestly, I don’t expect that to be much of a factor.
There’s more than enough time for the vast majority of liberals, even in Vermont, to come around and support Hillary Clinton. And more than enough time for Donald Trump to horrify the voters into serious engagement with the election.
In summary, Phil Scott’s primary victory was inevitable — but there’s a little tarnish on it. He remains the favorite, but he isn’t bulletproof. As a candidate and a fundraiser, Sue Minter has greatly exceeded expectations so far; she’ll have to do even better to knock off the King-in-Waiting.