The field is set. Maybe. The third of the expected candidates, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, launched her bid Thursday morning.
Who knows, there might be other people who want to succeed senator-in-waiting Peter Welch in the U.S. House. There might even be candidates credible enough to face up to the three very talented women already in the race.
But even without any further entries, this is already promising to be the toughest primary campaign in Vermont since 2010, when Republican Jim Douglas’ retirement prompted five Democrats to run for their party’s gubernatorial nomination. Peter Shumlin won that election by a mere 176 votes. This one could be as close. It’ll likely be far more expensive.
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Senator Ram Hinsdale. It seems certain that one of these three will become the first woman to ever represent Vermont in Congress. (The Republicans have no shot.) And right now, I have no earthly idea which one it will be. When it was a two-person contest I gave Gray the edge simply because of statewide campaign experience and name recognition. The three-person faceoff is far less predictable. Maybe Gray is the early fave, but the margin is so small as to be effectively meaningless.
As for That Poll… “it’s far too early” doesn’t even need to be said, does it? The “VPR – Vermont PBS 2022 Poll,” as we are obligated to refer to it at every opportunity, not unlike the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, shows Gray in the “lead” with 21 percent support, Balint at 7, and Ram not showing because she hadn’t declared her candidacy when the poll was conducted. Actually, the lead spot went to “Not Sure” at 32% followed by “Unlikely to Vote in the Democratic Primary” at 30%.
Gray’s showing reflects her head start in name recognition and nothing more. That doesn’t make her the “unquestioned frontrunner” as one out-of-state political operative claimed. It’s like if the Red Sox scored a run in the top of the first and the announcer called them “the unquestioned favorite to win the game.”
All three candidates deserve respect. Gray, for her historically rapid rise in our politics. Balint, for reaching the top post in the Senate and herding her caucus’ ornery cats with great skill. Ram, for being a strong progressive voice in the Statehouse and a successful politician of color in an overwhelmingly white state.
All three have begun their campaigns with strong initial fundraising totals. None has a distinct edge, but all three have shown they are competitive.
Each successive entrant announced an initial total larger than the last. That’s all part of the game. It’s marking your territory, if you don’t mind a crude analogy; it’s a statement of strength and a warning to others who might challenge you.
The first round of fundraising is the easiest. You can take time to build a donor base, and you don’t announce until you have enough pledges to make a big initial splash. It’s what you can do after that that counts. As Congressional candidates, each will have to submit monthly reports to the Federal Elections Commission, and us political observers will be following closely.
Not to say that money is definitive. It helps in assembling a strong staff and field operation, and encouraging further donations. But while money can buy you talent, it can’t buy you campaign smarts.
This race is going to be close. Marginal differences will be magnified. How strong is their ground game, especially in far-flung parts of the state? Can they motivate their voters to turn out when most will give it a skip? Can they get through the debates unscathed?
For those who follow politics, this will be a fascinating race. I’m really looking forward to it. And I’m glad we have three female candidates who are so strong and accomplished that they might keep all those pesky men on the sidelines. This is the moment for us to finally send a woman to Washington.