The leader of the State House’s perpetually undersized Republican caucus is feeling his oats.
[House] Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, said he believes the Republican Party can increase its presence in the chamber from the current 53 seats to 76 — a majority.
I understand it’s part of his job to put on a brave face, but there is no way on God’s green Earth that the Republicans rack up a net gain of 23 House seats. After all, 2014 was a horrible year for Vermont Democrats; their ticket-topper was the roundly unpopular Peter Shumlin, there was no race for President or U.S. Senator, and turnout was dramatically depressed. And even with all that in their favor, the VTGOP only managed a net gain of eight seats in the House.
And 2016 should be a bounceback year for the House Democrats. (More on this below.)
There’s also the inconvenient fact that the House Republicans’ campaign warchest appears to be in the red. According to its most recent campaign finance filing, the Vermont House Republican PAC has raised $5,095 this campaign cycle and spent $7,832.74. That dip into penury was triggered by an Attorney General’s ruling that the PAC had improperly accepted contributions from lobbyists during the legislative session. It had to return $3,000 in donations and pay a $2,000 fine.
So, no help there. But it’s not like the VHRPAC is alone. Pretty much every Republican aside from Phil Scott is begging for spare change.
There’s the VTGOP itself, whose latest Federal Elections Commission filing shows a cash balance of $10,441, which isn’t enough to keep the lights on through November 8.
Indeed, just about every Republican in Vermont is begging for money with the sole exception of Phil Scott. And if he’s spending any of his time helping build the VTGOP or replenish its bank account, there’s no evidence of it in any campaign finance reports.
You’d think he’d want bigger caucuses in the House and Senate, because as long as the Democrats have big majorities, his hypothetical governorship will likely devolve into a series of partisan standoffs.
The House Republicans may be hoping for a repeat of 2014’s last-days injection of funds from the Republican State Leadership Committee. And that might well happen, but since the August primary, all the outside Republican money has been in support of Phil Scott. He’s clearly the GOP’s best chance for a splashy victory in Vermont.
Elsewhere in Republican circles, we have the embarrassing spectacle of Scott MIlne possibly running afoul of federal campaign finance law by headquartering his campaign in the offices of Milne Travel. So far, his campaign hasn’t paid any rent or expenses for the space. But it speaks to the threadbare nature of the Milne campaign. And he ain’t getting any outside help, that’s for dum sure. (As my Grandma used to say.)
And then there’s Republican Attorney General candidate Deb Bucknam, who has been out-fundraised by Democrat TJ Donovan by a margin of nearly seven to one. During the month of September, Bucknam raised a paltry $5,285. And $4,000 of that was a single donation from wannabe conservative media giant True North Reports.
The only person besides Phil Scott who’s managed to raise a decent amount of scratch is Lite-Guv hopeful Randy Brock. He’s raised close to $144,000. Respectable, but a lot less than Dem/Prog David Zuckerman’s $240,000.
Scott, meanwhile, has his own campaign fund plus the $1.2 million-and-counting spent on his behalf by the Republican Governors Association. Also, the National Association of Realtors Fund just reported spending $81,586 for mailers and other advertisements in support of Phil Scott.
The rich get richer. The rest of the Vermont Republicans go begging.
Seriously, Phil, couldn’t you spare a few crumbs for all those Oliver Twists hanging around your table?
Postscript: A few notes on the impossibility of Don Turner’s hopes.
2014 was an epochally bad year for Vermont Democrats. No presidential race, no contest for U.S. Senate, and the broadly unpopular Peter Shumlin hanging around their necks. Turnout was doubly dismal; liberals tend to sit out non-presidential elections, plus nobody was excited about voting for Shumlin.
This year is a presidential year, Pat Leahy is on the ballot, and Shumlin is not. Turnout is likely to be at least 30 percent higher than in 2014, and most of the additional voters will be liberal.
In 2012, a presidential year with Bernie Sanders running for re-election and Shumlin still popular, Democrats picked up four seats in the House and the Republicans lost four. The Dems had a veto-proof supermajority.
In 2014, the Republicans had all the advantages, and yet they “only” gained eight seats while the Dems lost eleven. But that still left the Dems with a lopsided advantage — 85 seats to the Repubs’ 53.
The Republicans’ first task is to hold onto those gains. Even that will be an uphill battle. A few key districts:
Chittenden 8-2: A suburban swing district. In 2012, Democrats Tim Jerman and Linda Waite-Simpson were elected. Republican Paul Dame finished a distant third. In 2014, Dame finished second, ousting Waite-Simpson.
Funny thing is, Dame actually racked up quite a few more votes in 2012. His winning 2014 total was 1,399 — that’s 392 fewer votes than he got in his losing 2012 effort. The difference: a lot fewer Democratic voters. In 2012, the two Democratic winners got 2,685 and 2,314 votes respecively. In 2014, the Dems got 1,473 and 1,311. I can’t swear that turnout will be the same this year as in 2012, but I can tell you this: Paul Dame had better be prepared to win well over 2,000 votes if he wants to keep his seat.
And maybe he can. He’s an incumbent now, and the Dems have two first-time candidates on the ballot. But it won’t be a cakewalk.
Franklin-4: In 2012, incumbent Dem Michael Consejo and Repub Brian Savage ran unopposed and won. In 2014, Consejo finished third as Repub Marianna Gamache edged him out by 49 votes — 1,049 to 1,000.
But in 2012, Consejo had won more than twice as many votes. Both he and Savage passed the 2,000 mark with ease. If Gamache wants to hold her seat, she’ll have to win twice as many votes as she did in 2014.
And maybe she can. But she’ll have to work for it.
The same story repeats itself across the state. The ebb and flow of turnout is as significant as the tides in the Bay of Fundy, but they are little remarked upon by our political media.
The tide’s coming in. And Don Turner is standing on the expanse of beach like King Canute, ordering the waters to stay back.