This is a mailer sent to voters in the Chittenden County Senate district. It features three of the four incumbents who are seeking re-election, running as a ticket.
The fourth? Sen. Phil Baruth.
Hmm. Was he excised, like Trump from that Jeffrey Epstein photo on Fox News? Is he persona non grata?
Nope. No conspiracy, no coup, nothing juicy. In this pandemic season, he explained, “I made a pledge not to raise or spend any money. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for money when everybody’s finances have taken a massive hit.” And since taking part in the joint mailer would have cost a couple thousand dollars or so, he withdrew from the enterprise. In fact, just today he posted a message on Facebook about his decision.
It’s not entirely a selfless decision; two of the six seats are open, which increases the odds that the four incumbents will sail through a crowded Democratic field. Baruth feels confident he will survive the August vote. “If, after five cycles, I haven’t accrued enough goodwill [to win], maybe that’s for the best.”
He’s almost certainly right. I expect the four incumbents to be the top four finishers in the primary. As for the rest of the Chittenden County Senate field, handicapping the primary is a fool’s game. Normal campaigning is off the table, so how do people get their names out there? Judging by the mid-July finance reports, only one candidate has enough money to make a major media push.
Besides, this primary is a mystery. These affairs are usually low-key and low-turnout, but a massive number of Vermonters have requested absentee ballots. We could easily see a record turnout, which makes for an unpredictable election.
Even the campaign finance filings are harder than usual to interpret. Some candidates, like Baruth and Rep. Dylan Giambatista, who’s running for Senate, have eschewed fundraising. Many others have shifted to passive mode, accepting donations that come in but doing little or nothing to solicit funds.
But hey, the reports are there, so let’s give ’em a look.
Former state representative Kesha Ram is the only candidate in the field with a sizable bankroll, and she accumulated most of that before the pandemic hit. She’s raised a total of $59,000, and has spent $35,000 so far. She received $3,000 Thom Lauzon, former Republican mayor of Barre, and his wife Karen. Other big donations came from former state Democratic Party chair Faisal Gill ($1,500) and Democratic megadonors Gregory and Lorene Vaut ($2,000). Her expenditures include more than $20,000 paid to Skyler Nash, UVM student and justice advocate, who’s presumably her campaign manager.
I hope so, anyway. That’s a lot of money for secretarial help.
Second on the money list is The Candidate Who Could Be a Republican Mole, South Burlington city council member Tom Chittenden. Maybe that’s unfair, but he did get $1,000 from former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman, $550 from members of the fuel-dealing Cota family, $500 from Jeffersonville fuel dealer Jack Corse, and $250 from former Republican Senate candidate Alex Farrell. He also got $4,141 from the aforementioned Vauts and $5,000 from himself.
Chittenden raised $33,000, all since March 15, so coronavirus be damned. He’s spent $17,000. Biggest expenditures are $2,700 for postage, $4,000 for yard signs and another $4K for advertising in Seven Days.
Actually, former Burlington councilor Adam Roof is also in the running for Stealth Republican. He’s raised $25,000, all since March 15, and spent $10,000. His major donors include Thom Lauzon ($1,000), Ray Pecor (developer, $1,500), Ernie Pomerleau (developer, $1,000), Bill Bissonette (landlord, $1,500), and David Farrington (contractor, $1,000). Oh, and $2,300 from himself and another $2,800 from Other People Named Roof.
Assistant attorney general and former Burlington Democratic Party chair David Scherr is next on the money list, with $22,000 raised, all since March 15, and a puny $3,000 spent. Notable donors include former state party chair Jake Perkinson ($1,560), the Burke Law firm ($1,560), former Burlington city councilor, lawyer and Twitter shitkicker Ed Adrian ($252), former state representative Joan Lenes ($250) and former lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidate Doug Racine ($200).
Giambatista managed to raise nearly $18,000 before the pandemic and only $175 since. He’s spent about two-thirds of the money he’s raised.
Many latecomers to the race either have sworn off fundraising or been unsuccessful at it. June Heston, who became an advocate against military burn pits after the death of her husband, Vermont National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael Heston, has raised $10,500 — half of it from herself. Social worker and previously unsuccessful Senate candidate Steve May has raised $5,800, virtually all of it before the pandemic. Housing advocate and Brass Balagan member Erhard Mahnke has raised $5,500, including $3,000 from himself.
If you’re just looking at dollars, Ram is the apparent front-runner with four candidates in a second-place bunch — Roof, Chittenden, Scherr and Giambatista. But even Ram doesn’t have enough cash on hand to give her a decisive edge. And, in this profoundly weird year, who knows what will make the difference?
Scherr has connections from his party service, and he’s well-known in legal circles. (Baruth has endorsed him, because of their work together on justice reform issues.) Roof has name recognition from his Burlington council service, although he did lose his last bid for re-election. Chitttenden has the South Burlington base to himself, FWIW.
Essex Junction resident Giambatista should draw well in the suburbs — and he’s got some cred in the Burlington arts community from his years with the band Rough Francis. (He recorded a pair of campaign songs with fellow Franciscan Urian Hackney, which are available through his website for free.) Heston and Mahnke are respected for their advocacy. May hasn’t been a strong vote-getter in past cycles, but he does have solid progressive credentials, which can be helpful in this district.
No big conclusions here. A race like this, with two openings in the Chittenden delegation, would normally be a real dogpile. This year, it’s much more so. The pandemic has had huge and unpredictable impacts, from interference with fundraising to the massive potential absentee ballot. If you ask me to pick the winners, I’d go with Ram and Scherr — but I’d have zero confidence in my predictive capabilities. Very little would surprise me.