When I wrote earlier this week that Lt. Gov. Molly Gray is the early favorite over Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint in the race for Vermont’s Congressional seat, I closed with this line:
…those who underestimate Balint do so at their peril.
Well, I’m sure glad I wrote that. Balint took the opening round of the campaign yesterday by announcing a first-day fundraising total of $125,000. This, after the Gray campaign had boasted of raising $110,000 in the first week.
Gray laid down a full house. Balint topped her with a straight flush.
Now, it’s ridiculously early. Both candidates had impressive hauls, and both will raise enough money to be seriously competitive. But political folk take note of this stuff. That one-day total proved that Balint is a serious contender.
Especially given Gray’s connections to the power brokers in Vermont politics. It’s no surprise that she raised a bunch of money right off the bat. It is a surprise that Balint did so much better. If there were any doubts about her ability to play the inside game as well as Gray, well, they’re gone. My own questions about Balint’s ability to lead the Senate and conduct an intense campaign at the same time are not entirely gone, but they seem less relevant today.
Announcing a big initial fundraising total is part of the game. The bottom line is disclosed, but other information is in the realm of vague optimism. We won’t know how or from whom Balint and Gray raised their money until the next campaign finance reports are due at the end of January.
When that happens, you can be sure that both candidates will boast of small versus large donations or in-state versus out-of-state or individual versus organization or whatever slice-and-dice metric makes them look like the winner. The political press will dutifully report all of that. And it won’t make a bit of difference. Because outside of the political press, nobody pays attention to where the money comes from.
Has it ever hurt Phil Scott to have the deep-pocketed backing of the Republican Governors Association? No. Has it ever hurt Peter Welch or Pat Leahy that they raise big bucks from big corporations? No. Will voters pay attention to what Gray or Balint say in their January 31 press releases? Hell no.
Their initial fundraising hauls do energize their campaign teams. They do make a difference in political circles. The most significant thing about Gray and Balint’s early success is that it might discourage others from making a run. It has to make Sen. Kesha Ram think a little harder about entering the fray. Other potential candidates, Democratic and Republican, have to reassess whether they’ve got a path to victory. They know they’re up against a pair of heavyweights.
And even if nobody else joins the race, we know we’re in for a tough, competitive, energetic primary campaign.