Must have been some soiled britches at VTGOP headquarters when the news came out: a new poll shows the race for governor is a statistical dead heat.
If it’s accurate, of course. Usual caveats apply. Doesn’t help that this is the only pre-election poll we’re going to get, since VPR is the only media organization putting up money for surveys this year.
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s reasonably on target.
There were reasons to believe the race would be close, but the almost universal assumption (me included) was that Phil Scott was the front-runner because of his name recognition, his inoffensive image, and Vermonters’ presumed post-Shumlin fatigue with liberal policymaking. Minter, by comparison, was known (to the extent she was known at all) mainly as a Shumlin underling, which meant she would struggle to create a profile of her own.
Instead, here we are, with Scott at 39 percent, Minter at 38, and a rather surprising 14 percent undecided.
So why is this race so close? Assuming, again, that the poll is accurate.
For starters, Minter has been underestimated from the very beginning. Many observers wondered why she was even trying, with the higher-profile Matt Dunne and (at the time) Shap Smith in the race. Her campaign seemed to stumble initially; she replaced her original campaign manager a few months into the race.
But her fundraising appeal turned out to be much higher than expected, thanks in part to EMILY’s List and to Vermont women (and the people who respect them) wanting to break the glass ceiling in place since Madeleine Kunin left office. Minter quickly erased Dunne’s financial head start, and sustained her momentum throughout.
She won the Democratic primary with ease, which might have prompted wiser heads to re-evaluate her strength as a candidate. But no, the assumption was that Minter didn’t win as much as Matt Dunne lost. She was still seen as a decided underdog in the fall campaign.
Poll says otherwise.
It’s also surprising that Scott hasn’t managed to crack 40 percent. You’d think, with his resume full of warm fuzzies*, he’d have no trouble getting into the mid-40s. Perhaps the Republican base has shrunk farther than we thought.
*Genial character, conflict avoider, race car driver, blue-collar businessman, Wheels for Warmth, manly yet approachable, etc., etc.
That would explain the other poll results: every other statewide Republican candidate is trailing badly, and Trump’s getting trumped big-time by Hillary Clinton. By comparison, Scott’s doing great. But it might not be enough.
At this point, again assuming the poll is accurate, I’d have to say Sue Minter is the favorite. The most likely development of the last three weeks is a continued cratering in support for Donald Trump and the concomitant disaffection of Republican voters. Clearly, Trump is an albatross around Scott’s neck. The burden is likely to get heavier by Election Day.
— Minter’s about to get a significant push, thanks to the active support of Bernie Sanders. They’ll hold joint rallies in six cities this weekend. That will drive a lot of media attention and reinforce the unity of the left in the face of the Republican agenda.
— There is a fundamental baked-in advantage for any Democratic candidate. Republicans have real trouble being competitive at any level, except in the few and thinly-populated conservative areas of the state (The Kingdom, Rutland, Franklin County.) Minter’s an underrated candidate, but she’s also enjoying that automatic advantage.
— One massive factor that’s generally ignored is the size of the electorate in Presidential years. In an off year, speaking very roughly, about 300,000 Vermonters cast ballots. In Presidential years, that number gets close to 400,000. Most of the “extra” votes are liberal. Any Vermont Republican running in a Presidential year is swimming against a very strong tide.
— Scott’s advantage with his core issues is surprisingly small. His edge with voters on the economy is 41 to 28 percent. On taxes, it’s 42 to 28. For all his drum-beating on affordability, he has failed to make those issues firmly his own.
— In general, neither candidate has much of an advantage on any issue. Perhaps this is because so many voters are disengaged. On environment and clean energy, Minter had a 40-29 percent edge; on education, her margin was 38-31. You’d think those margins would be bigger. But on issue after issue, the results were in the same narrow range: on conservative hot buttons, Scott is up 10 points or so, and on liberal causes Minter is up about 10. I take this as evidence that most voters are making up their minds based on partisanship, or on their view of the candidates as people, not because of policy positions.
— The massive pro-Scott investment by the Republican Governors’ Association has failed to move the needle. Their ads will continue to come fast and furious, but Minter and her national allies have enough funds to be competitive on the paid-media front.
— The constant scrutiny of We Political Junkies notwithstanding, a lot of people are just not paying attention. Even now. 39 percent said they were “not very” or “not at all” familiar with the candidates. Most of those people are apparently voting party line; the rest, presumably, make up the 14 percent undecided.
— The race for governor will be decided between now and Election Day. That means the Trump Factor may well be decisive. If his standing continues to worsen, Scott’s battle gets tougher.
— Trump’s misogyny and gropiness are likely to drive women (and those who respect women) to the polls in large numbers. Advantage Minter.
— The Spaceman’s ass-clown campaign is getting him just what he deserves: two percent of the vote. Good riddance.