The Poll: A Wake-Up Call for Vermont Dems

Obligatory Vermont Exceptionalism jerkoff question.

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.

2 thoughts on “The Poll: A Wake-Up Call for Vermont Dems

  1. amajusiak

    I appreciate your take on Vermont politics. One topic I hope you’ll consider exploring regarding Governor Phil Scott is that, as a Republican, he is defacto with the party of Trump (despite the noises he makes otherwise). The Republican party IS the Trump party now, like it or not. I want to hear how he justifies remaining a Republican. It is no longer the party of restrained spending, of curbing national debt. It is the party of racism now. Of tax breaks for the rich and shredding social safety nets for the poor. What is it about the party that he likes that he continues to call himself a Republican?

    As you say, many Vermonters like to give Scott a pass because he is such a nice guy. He mouths the right things as governor before he then veto bills. He’s done an arguably good job during the pandemic and it is interesting now to see the biweekly “covid” press conferences become extensive free coverage for him. No wonder Dems don’t seem visible.

    Anyway, as you can tell your posts bring up a lot for me. Thank you for what you do. I appreciate it.

    Anne Majusiak Bristol


  2. Kelly Cummings

    Well said VPO Guy.

    When one side is not playing by the rules, guess who’s
    going to lose? Oh it would be nice if everyone was playing by the rules – sure sure, but wake up and smell the coffee already!

    I agree it’s time for Dems to toughen the heck up and start fighting for the people they represent. Stop giving Phil Scott a pass everyone, please. And if there’s ever been a moment for Dems and Progs to work together – it is now. If there’s ever been a time for Dem and Prog constituents to vote for a common cause – it is now. That means voting for David Zuckerman AND Molly Gray. So think about maybe putting the ol’ ego in the dresser drawer for awhile and let’s unite for a CHANGE. If that last sentence made you angry at me, well that’s your ego talking and egos rarely want to go anywhere, never mind the dresser drawer.

    Simply put, Phil Scott does not now and never will believe or support the policies of the Dem and Prog parties. So why vote for him? And Milne, well duh.

    These are serious times. And this is some serious sh.., uh stuff, we find ourselves in. There is a lot at stake. So egos away – Vote Zuckerman AND Gray!


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