Vermont’s Democratic electorate is yet again spoiled for choice. Not only do we have multiple credible candidates for U.S. Congress; now we have a three-way race for the party’s Secretary of State nomination among candidates with differing, but equally impressive, qualifications and political associations.
Yesterday, State Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas entered the fray, joining Montpelier City Clerk John Odum and Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters in the running to succeed the retiring Jim Condos. Each would make a great nominee and a worthy successor to Condos.
Each also has a different set of experiences and political associations. The latter will likely have the most impact in a party primary, and I frankly don’t know how the political stuff will play out. So let’s bullet-point the three of ’em, shall we?
Winters.Pluses: Top deputy to Condos, who turned out to be a strong and capable Secretary. Winters knows the job, and ought to have a handle on where the office needs to go next. Condos isn’t endorsing, but he’s made no secret that he wants Winters to succeed him, and Condos is very popular. Nice guy.
It’s gotten to the point where I feel sorry for Christina Nolan, the drug-enforcin’ former U.S. Attorney turned nudge nudge, wink wink moderate Republican candidate for Pat Leahy’s Senate seat. First, whatever she was promised in terms of financial and organizational support has failed to materialize. Second, she’s going to spend the next several months sharing the stage with a bunch of far-right zealots before like-minded audiences. The crowd and the stage will doubtless include people who don’t believe that Her Kind are entitled to equal rights or, for that matter, existence.
If these events get any coverage at all, they’ll torpedo her effort to campaign as a moderate. She’ll have two choices: play to the crowd and hope not to be quoted in the press, or stick to her campaign’s message and risk getting booed off the stage.
The first stop on this Trail of Tears is on Saturday at the palatial Double Tree Hotel, the flower of South Burlington, where the VTGOP will hold a luncheon (which is what they call “lunch” when they’re trying to sell expensive tickets*) and meeting to discuss and approve the party’s dog-whistly platform, in which the concept of moderation gains no purchase.
“Trying” is the operative word here. Last week, the party was offering a $15 discount off the $55 list price for those who bought tix before this week; then, on Monday and Tuesday it offered the same deal. In fact, on both days it sent an email saying the discount was still available but would end at “midnight tonight.”
And while we’re on the subject of Republican desperation, the party is STILL selling merch from the infamous “Let’s Go Brandon” rally held last November. Paul Dame’s garage must be full of that junk.
Nolan will be forced to have the opportunity to share the stage with the likes of her little-known and veeerrrrryy conservative primary opponent Gerald Malloy and the party’s two hopeless Congressional candidates, Anya Tynio and Ericka Redic. Also sharing in the rubber chicken: the party’s two candidates for lieutenant governor, the estimable Sen. Joe Benning and the execrable Gregory Thayer, 2020 election truther and Vermont’s most ardent opponent of whatever he imagines critical race theory is.
Nolan and Benning should expect the crowd to be ideologically in sync with the True Believers on stage and skeptical (at best) of their professions of inclusive Republicanism. At least the two can commiserate about waging an uphill battle with no resources and feeling compelled to cozy up to the VTGOP’s far-right base.
After the jump: Coming Soon to a Grange Hall Near You
Hey folks! A poll! We’ve got a poll! Dispatch the political reporters immediately! Let them gather quotes from people with axes to grind! Surely We Shall Learn More About the Coming Campaign!
The online survey comes to us from the University of New Hampshire, which has a vibrant polling institute built on the spoils of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. It’s a little creakier than most polls, especially when it comes to the August primary (the margin of error for August races is a whopping 5.9%). That’s a big deal since the race of greatest interest is the August primary for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress.
I mean, we hardly need a poll to tell us that outgoing U.S. Rep. Peter Welch has a gargantuan lead over likely Republican nominee Christina Nolan. Or that Gov. Phil Scott is already being fitted for his fourth-term tiara.
What does the poll tell us about the race for the Democratic Congressional nomination? Basically, that it’s very close and a lot of people haven’t made up their minds.
Now, that’s excitement.
Not that the paid political operatives weren’t out there spinning like dervishes on Red Bull. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s campaign manager Samantha Sheehan takes the prize for highest spin rate. She pointed to slight advantages for her candidate in hypothetical November matchups as evidence that Gray is “best positioned to keep this House seat in the hands of Democrats in November.”
How slight are Gray’s advantages? Couldn’t possibly be slighter.
I received a couple of polite emails over the weekend from one Isaac Evans-Frantz (or ISAAC! as his campaign logo identifies him), informing me that he would announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate today at noon, and inviting me to cover the event. “We haven’t seen much press yet about the campaign and thought you might be interested,” he wrote with a touch of wistfulness.
ISAAC! is a young man who’s done a lot of good things in his life. He brings ideas and energy to a campaign that exists entirely in the shadow of Senator-In-Waiting Peter Welch.
But no, I won’t be covering his announcement. Well, I guess I’m sort of covering it by writing this, but the rest of this piece won’t be about him. It’ll be about Quixote-style candidates and what we owe them.
Which is not much, really.
Look, I respect anyone who gets into the arena. Almost anyone; nothing for Cris Ericson here. Extra respect if ISAAC! really commits to the campaign instead of sitting around waiting for invitations to debates. But that doesn’t mean he deserves coverage.
The good people — and the rest — of the Vermont Republican Party will gather this Saturday to hear from distinguished candidates like [checks notes] Gregory Thayer, Ericka Redic, and Gerald Malloy*, whoever he is. They’ll also consider the party’s draft platform which, as you might expect, is one long exercise in dog-whistling — using coded language to appeal to the far right while refraining from overt statements that couldn’t be countenanced by serious Republicans like Phil Scott, Joe Benning, and Christina Nolan.
*Malloy is challenging Nolan for the booby prize, I mean Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. He’s against mask and vaccine mandates, wants to Build the Wall, and opposes not only Roe v. Wade but also Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision that established a right to contraception.
The platform ties the modern Republican Party to the Civil War and the ending of slavery, but fails to mention that the Republican Party ended its support for equal rights during the Ulysses S. Grant presidency and, since the days of Richard Nixon, has been the home party of American racism. It makes pleasant noises about environmentalism but slams the Global Warming Solutions Act and any other policy that might increase fossil fuel prices. It posits that the solution to health care affordability is — wait for it — giving people the ability to buy insurance across state lines and, yup, tort reform. It supports vouchers for K-12 education and parental access to all teaching materials, the favored code phrase for opposing critical race theory.
It also cites a “right to private property,” which is kind of not a thing? The Fifth Amendment establishes a limited right that bars the abrogation of property rights without due process or just compensation. (One wonders what the party’s position would be on Daniel Banyai.)
It also quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ll give you one guess which quote.
Well, the shower drain of political news is once again backed up, so it’s time to apply some rhetorical Liquid-Plumr and get the system going again. In today’s installment: the VDP at a crossroads, a really stupid lawsuit from a once-reputable publishing house, a complaint about Peter Welch being too good at fundraising, and maybe the worst political cartoon I’ve ever seen. Let the plunging begin!
The Vermont Democratic Party needs to take a look in the mirror. The VDP is once again looking for an executive director. Claire Cummings lasted about one year on the job before offering her resignation under circumstances unknown. As I wrote upon her hiring, “Cummings is the fourth person to hold the job in less than four years — and the fifth, if you count then-party chair Terje Anderson’s unfortunate tenure as interim ED in 2019.” Well, now they’re looking for their fifth in five years, or sixth if you count Anderson.
It’s sad. It’s pathetic. It’s a mess. And now the VDP must hire a new ED in the middle of election season. It needs someone who can hit the ground running with deep knowledge of Vermont and of campaigning. And it desperately needs someone with the guts to confront party elders if need be. I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee. No names, because I don’t know where the search is going to go. But i can tell you one thing: If they hire someone from outside the state and/or someone under the age of 25, it’ll mean they’re happy with the status quo. Or, to put it another way, it’ll mean they’re seriously out of touch and full of unwarranted conceit.
The Democrats’ Phil Scott playbook seems to consist of rolling over on their backs and begging for a belly scratch. This all-too-familiar pattern recurred this week, when the governor threatened to veto two very important bills on Tuesday… and then was welcomed as part of the Pat Leahy Statehouse lovefest on Wednesday.
I guess if someone tosses a couple of turds in your punchbowl, the appropriate response is to invite them back for High Tea the following day.
As for the governor, his schedule is arranged far in advance. He had to know before his Tuesday presser that he was going to share the stage on Wednesday with all the top Democrats… but nonetheless, he went ahead and trashed the Legislature’s budget and the hard-fought public sector pension reform plan.
Mr. Civility strikes again. And they let him get away with it. As usual.
The answer, in this case, is “when you can’t spend it.”
I’m referring to the maximum allowable individual contribution to a Congressional candidate, which is $2,900 for a primary campaign and another $2,900 for the general election. Candidates can collect both amounts before the primary, but they aren’t allowed to spend the second $2,900 until after the primary.
Well, in most cases it’s $2,900 twice. Some give the full $2,900 for the primary and some lesser amount for the general. All gifts are notated “Primary” or “General” in Federal Election Commission filings. But the gifts earmarked “General” still count towards a candidate’s total haul and cash on hand.
Should it? It’s arguable, but it’s the rules. Let’s set up a second category for primary dollars only and call it “effective cash on hand.”
This is kind of splitting hairs in the case of Republican Senate candidate Christina Nolan, who is the overwhelming favorite to win her primary. As reported previously, $37,700 of her cash on hand cannot be spent until the general election because nine of her donors gave more than $2,900 apiece. But at least she will get to spend that money… eventually.
That is decidedly not the case in the Democratic primary for U.S. House. It appears to be a close and lively contest among three leading candidates: Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, and state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale. One of them will get to spend those general election dollars; the other two will not.
Christina Nolan’s longshot bid for U.S. Senate got quite a bit longer last week, with the filing of first-quarter campaign finance reports. For starters, as expected, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch did what he’s always done — fundraise the hell out of his opposition. He pulled in $839,000 and spent roughly half of that, bringing his total warchest to a daunting $2.96 million.
Nolan? She received $157,000 in donations and spent about one-third of that, leaving her a smidge over $100K in cash on hand.
Thirteen of Nolan’s donors gave the maximum $2,900 for the primary campaign. Eight of those 13 also gave an additional $2,900, which must be reserved for the general election. That adds up to $37,700. One other person gave $5,000, of which $2,100 must be spent on the general. So her effective cash on hand — money she can spend between now and August 11 — is only $61,747. Which means that right now, today, Welch’s kitty is effectively an astounding forty-eight times as large as Nolan’s.
Ouch. Double ouch with nuts. I was going to make a David v. Goliath reference, but this is more like Bambi v. Godzilla. If this race wasn’t done and dusted already (hint: it was), these filings remove any remaining whispers of doubt.
Brock Pierce, who forever will be known in these quarters as Richie Rich, is still kinda-sorta running as an independent for Pat Leahy’s U.S. Senate Seat. That is, if he can even qualify for the ballot. But running or no, Pierce did file a campaign finance report for the first quarter of 2022. And, having given it a once-over, all I can say is the Pierce proto-campaign is either a piece of performance art or some kind of scam, possibly both.
There’s one big thing that points to “scam”: Pierce claims total expenditures of nearly $600,000, but his itemized expenses add up to less than $200,000. The difference is unexplained. More on that later, but let’s start with his fundraising. Pierce’s campaign fund has netted more than $700,000, which seems eminently respectable; but $589,000 of that consists of loans to his own campaign.
Reminder for those just tuning in: Pierce is a former child actor turned failed entrepreneur turned cryptocurrency billionaire with a history of associating with pedophiles. There is no tangible evidence that he lives in Vermont.
Pierce’s donor base can be counted on the fingers of two hands. He’s got a total of 10 unique donors, none of whom live in Vermont and most of whom forked over the $2,900 maximum. They’re exactly the kind of folks you’d expect: crypto investors, venture capitalists, and stock traders. One of them, George Sellars, was Pierce’s partner in Tether, a sketchy firm that supposedly provides a stable platform for crypto trading. Another, Jason Dorsett, is a crypto investor and maybe also a pet psychic.
Okay, now let’s turn to Pierce’s truly profligate expenditures.