Is Somebody Getting Nervous in the LG Race?

There’s only one month to go until the August primary, and who knows how many absentee ballots already coming in, so maybe it’s no surprise that some collars are showing signs of tightening.

The above is a mailer sent by Senate President Pro Tem and candidate for lieutenant governor Tim Ashe, which seems expressly designed to draw a contrast between him and Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray.

Gray, for those just joining us, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and immediately started racking up big donations and big-name endorsements. Before her emergence, the safe money was on Ashe to ride his name recognition to a primary victory — and then a comfortable ride to election in November. But now? Not so much.

Ashe’s mailer screams about the need for EXPERIENCE in these troubled times. The kind of EXPERIENCE that makes a person fit to, uhhh, bang a gavel. It highlights three things about Ashe that can’t be said about Gray: experience as Pro Tem, experience passing legislation, and “my real-world economic development career.”

That notorious slacker Gray, by contrast, has frittered away her time working for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Attorney General T.J. Donovan, among others. She probably does scrapbooking or needlepoint in her spare time. Maybe jigsaw puzzles.

Ashe’s mailer doesn’t draw as neat a contrast with the other two Democrats in the race. His fellow Senator Debbie Ingram has plenty of experience on legislation. Activist and arts administrator Brenda Siegel has spent lots of time in the Statehouse working on legislation as an advocate.

A more direct attack on Gray came last week courtesy of VTDigger, which posted a story questioning her residency status — and pretty much settling the issue in her favor.

Here’s some rank speculation on my part: Somebody gave Digger a tip to pursue this angle. If this had been entirely Digger’s initiative, the story would have been done when Gray launched her campaign — after all, she went out of her way to highlight her international experience including her time away from Vermont.

I have not a shred of evidence pointing to Ashe or his minions as the source of the story. But the timing speaks for itself. And I really don’t see Ingram or Siegel resorting to trickery of any sort.

As for fundraising, Gray has raised a total of $186,000 to Ashe’s $80,000. She has an even bigger edge in cash on hand, with $136,000 to Ashe’s $56,000. Yikes. Gray has received donations from 878 individuals to Ashe’s 390. Her donor list includes many top Democrats and liberal figures, including former governor Peter Shumlin, megadonors Bill and Jane Stetson, renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf, former VDP chair Dottie Deans and her partner Lydia Spitzer, Treasurer Beth Pearce, former Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell, VDP treasurer Billi Gosh, and a bunch of current and former staffers to Sen. Patrick Leahy. Also, writer and longtime Motel 6 spokesman Tom Bodett.

Ashe? Well, hrmm, he’s gotten donations from the Senate’s Old Guard — Jane Kitchel, Bobby Starr, Dick Mazza and Dick Sears. And first-term incumbent Andrew Perchlik. There are a few other notable names, but few from Democratic circles. He got a max donation from Taylor Harmeling, an investment manager who, according to the Federal Elections Commission, gave $2,700 to Sen. Marco Rubio’s ill-conceived 2016 presidential campaign. Two others, Mark and Amanda Harmeling, also maxed out with gifts of $4,160 to Ashe. (They also gave big to Mitt Romney’s presidential bid in 2012.)

Any old port in a storm, I guess.

As for endorsements, Ashe doesn’t even have an “endorsements” page on his campaign website. Gray’s includes former governor Madeleine Kunin, former lieutenant governor Doug Racine, two-time gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, and Pete Johnson of Pete’s Greens, as well as the aforementioned Shumlin, Powell and Stetson.

The year 2020 may be spectacularly unkind to conventional wisdom. The lack of in-person campaigning and a potentially massive absentee vote are huge unknowns, on top of the usual questions about turnout in a party primary. Ingram is well known in social-justice and religious circles; Siegel has the best claim to the usually-enthusiastic progressive base. It wouldn’t shock me if either one squeaked out a win in a crowded field.

But conventional wisdom is, well, “conventional” for a reason. It’s usually on the mark. At the beginning of the year, it would have strongly favored Ashe, with his unmatched experience as a legislative leader. But now?

If you forget about resumes and look at the usual measuring sticks of money and endorsements, Gray looks like the front-runner and Ashe the desperate underdog. There are signs that Ashe is coming around to that way of thinking as well.

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