The big news in the just-released VPR/VTPBS Poll was below the topline. I mean, the size of Gov. Phil Scott’s margin over Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman was a shock but not a surprise, if that makes sense. Unless something truly dramatic occurs in the next six weeks, Scott’s gonna win, but not by as much as the poll suggests.
For Dems, the alarm bells ought to be ringing loudly over the result of the race for lieutenant governor, which shows Dem Molly Gray with a slight lead, and the hypothetical Scott/Pat Leahy matchup in 2022, which puts Scott in the pole position.
Neither are a cause for panic, but both should inspire the Democrats to stop screwing around and get serious about this politics thing.
As for the LG race, I actually see it as bad news for Republican Scott Milne. He’s been on the statewide ballot twice before and almost became governor in 2014, plus he headed a high-profile business and comes from a storied family of moderate Republicanism. In name recognition alone, he should have an edge on Gray, who didn’t enter the political realm until about eight months ago.
Milne’s 31% shows that he’s enjoyed little carry-forward from his previous sallies. Plug any generic Republican into the LG slot, and they’d get 31%.
Which points to the even bigger problem for Milne: The Republican base is far too small to elect anyone, and he has yet to crack into the centrist/Democratic ranks — his two Dem endorsements notwithstanding. I suspect that all it will take to render a knockout blow to Milne is the likely outcome of the debates. Milne is an awful debater, and whatever you think of Gray, she’s got game.
Still, the Dems can’t be complacent about the race.
They can’t afford any dalliances with a guy they might like to see as Phil Scott 2.0 — a moderate “nice guy” who can scratch Vermonters’ deeply-felt itch for bipartisanship. A lot of Democrats want to believe that the VTGOP isn’t the hornet’s nest of Trumpian conspiracy theorizing it so obvously is — they’d prefer it to be a shining example of Vermont Exceptionalism, a wildlife preserve for the George Aiken/Deane Davis/Dick Snelling/Bob Stafford/etc brand of good-government Republican thinking.
Trouble is, there’s no evidence that Scott Milne is that guy. His past two campaigns have been fueled by financial and political grievance, and marked by a complete lack of policy positions. This time he’s got a platform, but there’s nothing new or different about it.
If the cosseting of MIlne is an issue for centrist and mainline Democrats, the all-out attacks on Gray are the problem coming from the left wing. I’ve seen some absolutely ridiculous stuff about her on Twitter, at best declaring her an empty vessel of VDP royalty, at worst framing her as a Manchurian candidate of the rich and powerful.
There’s a strong whiff of sexism about the process of tarring a young woman trying to break into the heavily male and predominantly old Vermont political scene. Also, this seems to have broken out after the primary, which is weird timing. If these people were so concerned about Gray, I hope they were busting their tails for Brenda Siegel, the real progressive in the race. (Tim Ashe is a power-broker and triangulator; Debbie Ingram has revealed her true colors with her Milne endorsement.)
Everyone is entitled to vote the way they want. But if they’re willing to tear down Gray at this point, they’re effectively doin’ work for Milne. And Milne, besides being a man who’s a generation older, has no claim on “experience” or moderation. (One Tweeter slammed Gray for never having had to be responsive to voters. As I twit back, neither has Milne.) As LG, would he work for a green new deal, justice reform, paid family leave, or any other progressive priority?
Now let’s turn to the Scott/Leahy matchup, which gives the governor a three-point edge over St. Patrick. A hypothetical question about a race that might happen in two years’ time. My take: This marks the Apotheosis of Phil Scott, a high water mark born of his competent slash lucky handling of the pandemic.
Really his entire political career has been buoyed by Democrats’ tacit enabling. The Dems have rarely, if ever, taken him on directly. They’ve been happy to nominate second-line candidates against him. They’ve given him a pass for the many times when he’s been the most powerful conservative politician in the state.
After all, this is a governor with an unprecedented record of vetoing bills. And that’s with a risk-averse Legislature that does its best to accommodate Scott when writing legislation, and frequently failing to even get crucial bills to his desk because they tie themselves in such knots. If we had leadership that wasn’t afraid to put bills on Scott’s desk and dare him to do his worst, how many more vetoes would he have?
But he’s a niiiiiice guy, a plausible Son of the Soil. (In fact, he’s a son of fossil fuels and heavy construction. But that would spoil the image, wouldn’t it?)
I don’t think the poll result means that Pat Leahy is in serious trouble in 2022 if he runs again. But it ought to be the ultimate wake-up call to the Dems. If they’re willing to vote for Scott or fail to mount a strong campaign against him, they are opening the door to a Sen. Phil Scott. And moderate nice guy or not, that would be a bad thing for national progressive politics. You think he’d support universal health care? Not a chance. You think he’d actively oppose national Republican leadership — or would he make Susan Collins-style noises and be a high-percentage vote for the GOP agenda?
As has been noted for years, more loudly since the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the gloves are off on the Republican side. They’re fully engaged in mud-fighting, low-blowing, damn-the-consequences politics. They are more interested in power than in principle or good government. Vermont Democrats might like to think they’re living in the Island of Exceptionalism, but they are not. The yearnings of a small percentage of the electorate notwithstanding, Vermont is not seceding, not now, not anytime.
The Democrats need to stop playing mumblety-peg when they’re getting knifed in the ribs. That includes taking Phil Scott seriously as the number-one threat to their in-state primacy and the number-one Vermont threat to the Democratic/progressive agenda nationwide.
Do I seriously expect them to stop farting around? No. But they should.