In Thursday’s lieutenant governor debate, Republican Scott Milne launched an all-out attack on Democrat Molly Gray for her supposedly spendthrift agenda and, naturally, her spotty voting record. He scored some points in the process.
He also opened the door to an attack-oriented campaign at odds with his self-positioning as a moderate Nice Guy. And to considerations of each candidate’s personal history. He may live to regret that, since there are a few known skeletons in his otherwise unexplored closet. Let’s start by comparing the two candidates in their formative years.
While graduating from law school, becoming an attorney and establishing herself as a globetrotting professional deeply engaged in justice issues, Gray frequently failed to vote.
Molly Gray is on notice: If she wants to be lieutenant governor, she’s gonna have to fight for it.
First came Scott Milne’s roundhouse attacks in Thursday’s VTDigger debate (more on that in a separate post). Now comes a big-money investment in Milne from the D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee.
National Republicans have yet to throw any real money at Gov. Phil Scott, presumably because they are convinced he doesn’t need it. But clearly they see an opportunity to take the Lite-Guvship and position Milne as Scott’s successor.
RSLC Vermont, an independent political action committee, has reported a mass media buy totaling $209,500, the bulk of it on a TV ad blitz in support of Milne. Yep, in a single shot, the big boys put down as much cash as an entire LG campaign used to cost.
So much for Gray’s financial advantage over Milne. And this was a single expenditure; there’s a virtually unlimited supply of cash where that came from. For these folks, $200,000 is pocket change.
The RSLC is a key component of the conservative effort to buy American politics lock, stock and Supreme Court. Atop its list of donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is the Judicial Crisis Network, the far-right organization spearheading the drive to install conservative-minded judges and, ahem, Supreme Court Justices. Other big-dollar RSLC backers include the US Chamber of Commerce, tobacco giant Altria Group, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the Republican Governors Association, PhRMA, Amway, Koch Industries, and good old Blue Cross-Blue Shield. (Aww, and Big Blue always sounds so kind and community-spirited in its ad campaigns.)
Yeah, the same people who fueled the rise of Donald Trump, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz, and are doing their best to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a Brett Kavanagh thinkalike, are here in Vermont promoting the putative moderate Scott Milne.
But hey, RSLC Vermont is an independent PAC with no connection to the Milne campaign, so he has plausible deniability — just like Phil Scott, whose rise to the governorship has been fueled by outside conservative interests. In both 2016 and 2018, the Republican Governors Association spent far more on Scott than did the candidate himself.
In today’s first gubernatorial debate of the general election campaign, David Zuckerman showed us how it can be done. He came straight at Gov. Phil Scott with a well-articulated progressive critique. He was polished, he was focused, he fought the good fight, and it probably won’t do him a damn bit of good.
Interstitial note: The debate was cosponsored by Vermont Public Radio and Public Television, but for the life of me I can’t find the video online. The link above is to the VPR audio.
It was the stoutest debate challenge Scott has faced in his three gubernatorial campaigns — and more. Zuckerman is the first experienced statewide campaigner Scott has faced in his SIX runs for governor or lieutenant governor.
Scott has usually had the benefit of facing the B-Team. Previous opponents did their best, but Cassandra Gekas, Dean Corren, Sue Minter and Christine Hallquist ain’t exactly Murderers’ Row. All four were in their first statewide campaigns, and two had never run for any office. Scott has also enjoyed the soft opposition of those willing to cast him as a well-meaning Nice Guy who’s kind of a Republican In Name Only.
There is a solid Democratic/Progressive critique of Scott; it’s just sat on the shelf for most of the past decade. Zuckerman pulled it down and discovered that there’s some power in that weapon.
Unfortunately, he drew the short straw. He’s opposing Scott at the high point of the governor’s popularity. But Zuckerman is drawing a roadmap for future campaigns against Scott, and may at least put some dents into that Teflon coat.
As for Mr. Nice Guy, he responded with some rare attacks at Zuckerman and quite a bit of passive-aggressiveness — Scott’s favorite variety of aggressiveness when he’s not behind the wheel of Big Green No 14. At this point in his tenure, all aglow with the universal praise for his handling of the pandemic, Phil Scott is unaccustomed to confrontation.
He also, at this stage of his political career, fresh out of new ideas.