This is, as I tweeted the other day, the most hilarious development of the #vtpoli season. Tim Ashe, who rose to the position of Senate President Pro Tem by making nice with the chamber’s most entrenched senior members, is now presenting himself as the outsider in the race for lieutenant governor, The Man Of The People not beholden to “the political elite.”
Does he mean elites such as Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel, who serves as the Ashe campaign’s treasurer? Or Senate Finance Chair Ann Cummings, now in her 23rd year in office and so immune from challenge that she hardly bothers to campaign at all?
Look, here they are now.
I sense the distinctive odor of flop sweat.
Ashe, who seemed like the obvious odds-on favorite to succeed David Zuckerman as lieutenant governor, has recast himself as Mr. Outside because he’s in danger of being Wally Pipped by a young woman who had precisely zero profile in Statehouse circles a mere six months ago.
It has to have been quite galling for him to watch Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray rack up endorsement after endorsement from top Vermont Democrats, and follow it up with a truly impressive fundraising performance that has left Ashe in the financial dust.
Gray entered July with a better than two-to-one edge over Ashe in fundraising, and a two-and-a-half-to-one edge in cash on hand. So far this month, Gray has reported spending $49,000 on mass media — TV, printing and mailing.
Ashe has spent zero, according to the Secretary of State’s campaign finance website.
Now, $49,000 isn’t really that much for a statewide campaign. In fact, I’d argue that the $34,000 Gray has spent on TV isn’t enough to make a material difference. You’ve got to spend big, really big, to break through the clutter of video advertising.
But it’s a starkly revealing gauge of the campaigns’ relative fiscal heft that Gray can spend 50 grand while Ashe is hoarding ammunition. And as Yogi Berra supposedly said, it gets late early around here. It may be two-plus weeks until primary day, but more than 100,000 Vermonters have already received ballots. With every passing day, more and more voters are casting their ballots. Any media buy from this point onward is, to some degree, a waste of money.
I don’t mean to ignore the other two worthy contenders for the Democratic LG nomination, but they don’t figure into the financial picture. Sen. Debbie Ingram’s campaign has been low-budget from the beginning, as she depends on her years of service in the social justice arena and Vermont’s faith community to carry her candidacy. Brenda Siegel’s entire political persona is built around being the scrappy underdog, the candidate for the disenfranchised. For her, fundraising is a secondary consideration.
But Ashe had (until now) predicated his campaign on “experience.” And he was, six months ago, the prospective front-runner. The sans culottes are a natural fit for Siegel; they’re comically out of place on Ashe.