Campaign Vermont 2020: No Juice

Welp, the air is out of the bouncy house. Sad to say, here we are on September 2, and there’s pretty much nothing in this woebegone Vermont campaign season to speculate about or prognosticate or even stir up the slightest semblance of interest.

That’s my big takeaway from the September 1 campaign finance reports. It’s all over but the whimpering.

Unless something huge happens, none of the statewide races look competitive. There will be, at best, only minor shifts in the makeup of the Legislature. We’ll head into a new biennium full of financial hardships and across-the-board policy challenges — with the same crew that’s given us a whole lot of status quo for the last four years.

Can you feel the excitement?

The two financial disclosures that tell the story weren’t even filed by candidates, or Vermonters. They came from the Vermont-specific political action committees funded by the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations.

The DGA’s “Our Vermont” has yet to lift a finger or spend a dime this year.

The RGA’s “A Stronger Vermont” has spent some $94,000 on a pair of polls, one in February and another in August. Otherwise, they spent a few thousand bucks on a bit of online advertising. Which tells you all you need to know about the results of those surveys: The RGA is so confident that Gov. Phil Scott will win a third term that they aren’t bothering to spend money.

Point of comparison: In the six weeks between Primary Day 2016 and October 1, 2016, the RGA spent $929,000 in support of Scott’s campaign. There was a poll in there, but the vast majority — $664,000 — bought a TV ad blitz that put Dem Sue Minter on the ropes. She never got back into the race. If the RGA saw Zuckerman as a threat, they’d be doing the same thing right now.

Election Day is still two months away, and the dynamics of the race could change. And a meteor could strike the earth. But there is no sign of a game-changing event.

This month’s legislative session won’t do it; lawmakers might pass the cannabis and climate change bills — and then Scott will veto them. The Gov and the Leg aren’t that far apart on the budget, and both sides have every incentive to pass something and GTFO. Voters’ attention is occupied by the antics of Donald Trump at his flop-sweatiest and the polity-killing twin crises of Covid-19 and racial justice. The Zoom Sesh may have its share of sound and fury, although that’s going to be more about playing the hits than making new sounds that matter.

In the other statewide races, the Republicans are looking completely irrelevant. The only pairing that has the slightest chance of being competitive is the race for lieutenant governor between Republican Scott Milne and Democrat Molly Gray. But Milne isn’t raising enough money to make it a race, while Gray seems to have it in cruise control.

Yeah yeah, I know, MIlne had no money in 2014 and he came within an eyelash of beating Peter Shumlin. But as I’ve written before, that election was a fluke. And while Shumlin was a deeply wounded candidate who’d forfeited the enthusiasm of Democrats and Progressives, Gray is the shiny new face and the great hope for the future.

Gray raised $74,000 in August, bringing her campaign total to $282,000. Big bucks for a Lite-Guv race. Her August contributors included some big names. Former governor Howard Dean kicked in a max donation of $4,160, as did U.S. Rep. Peter Welch’s campaign fund. Sen. Pat Leahy’s Green Mountain PAC donated $4,000. (Zuckerman, sad to say, has yet to score a similar gift, or any gift, from his political mentor Bernie Sanders.) Centrist deep thinker David Coates gave $2,100 last month. But most of Gray’s donations were of the smaller variety. She’s received contributions from a total of 1,311 individuals, including 311 in August. She’s doing everything she needs to do.

Milne’s campaign, meanwhile, raised $39,000 in August for a campaign total of $85,000. That includes $20,000 from himself. Milne has received donations from 286 different people for the entire cycle. Gray had more than that in August alone. Besides himself, his most generous donors were environmental lawyer Elise Keys* and her husband, cryptocurrency investment advisor Andrew Keys, both residents of Puerto Rico, who each gave the $4,160 maximum. Elise is a former associate in David Boies’ law firm. You may recall the ill-fated Milne/Boies Junior real estate development off I-89 Exit 1 that went off the rails in the Act 250 process. Good times.

*I’ve been told that Elise Keys is Scott Milne’s daughter. Which is kind of a touch more depressing; Milne’s only max donors are himself, his daughter and her husband.

The gubernatorial money is laughably small. Zuckerman performed creditably in August, raising $112,000 for a campaign total of $460.000. He’s got nearly $100,000 in cash on hand, which is better than I expected — but nowhere near enough to put up a real fight against Scott. He has a nice broad donor base, receiving gifts from 1041 individuals in August and 4,376 for the campaign to date.

So he’ll win Mr. Popularity, but he won’t be Prom King.

Scott is still coasting along. He raised $36,000 last month, virtually all of it from a handful of big donors. He’s raised a mere $135,000 for the cycle so far, another clear indication that his campaign sees no danger from Zuckerman.

Scott’s big donors included Thom Lauzon, Thom Lauzon, Thom Lauzon and wife Karen Lauzon at $4,160 apiece. Well, Thom can’t give that much directly, so he gave once from his own checkbook and twice through his corporate entities. Other high rollers include Dee Pomerleau of the renowned Burlington development family and Thomas Peterffy, an Ohio billionaire.

Scott managed the rare feat of averaging $1,000 per donation in August — because he simply doesn’t draw many small contributions. Of his $135,000 fundraising total, $118,000 came in gifts of $100 or more. He has only 376 unique donors, which is downright sad compared to Zuckerman’s 4,376.

But it doesn’t matter. At all. Scott and the national Republicans are 100% confident they’ve got this thing locked up. And I can’t tell them they’re wrong.

There are a lot of Democrats who’ll be perfectly content with that outcome. Just wait till it comes back to bite them in the ass. More on that in my next post.


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