Our Democratic “leaders” have been studiously avoiding the long-odds task of running for governor against Phil Scott. The Dems have made a habit of this — not only during Scott’s tenure, but also under Jim Douglas. The top Democrats ducked and covered until Douglas decided to step down, and then there was a land rush of suddenly-eager candidates.
For the party that otherwise rules the roost in these parts, it’s a disgraceful history.
But now, finally, in early May for Pete’s sake, we have a Democrat in the race: Brenda Siegel, activist, advocate, two-time candidate for statewide office and, as she likes to say, the only person to beat Scott in the public arena. You may recall the epic sleep-out on the Statehouse steps that shamed the governor into reversing course on emergency housing.
Siegel braved the onset of winter. She stared down the governor. That’s the famously genial guy who never bothered to step outside his office and meet with Siegel and her allies. It’s no surprise that she’s willing to go where no other Democrat is willing to go: into the arena with Phil Scott.
She deserves all the credit in the world for that. And other potential candidates, who are clearly waiting for Scott to retire, deserve their share of scorn.
But… can she win?
Probably not. It’s a longshot. Scott remains very popular. Despite her two statewide runs and high-visibility activism, Siegel starts the race with a big deficit in name recognition. She’s got very little time to turn that around. (Remember when Christine Hallquist announced for governor in February 2018 and everyone said it was too late? And it was.) She’ll probably struggle to raise money because people don’t think she can win so they don’t donate which makes it harder for her to win. Meanwhile, if the race even hints at becoming competitive, national Republican groups are ready to swoop in and drop millions on an anti-Democrat media blitz. They’ve done it before.
It’s a daunting task. Which makes her willingness to step forward all the more creditable.
There’s also the likeability factor. Siegel isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. She has pissed off her share of powerful people. And she’s taking on The King of Plausible Likeability.
To those people, I say: Put up or shut up. Find yourself a candidate more to your liking and convince them to throw their proverbial hat into the metaphorical ring.
And I do hope other Democrats will enter the race. Competition is a good thing. There’s always the fear that a rip-roaring primary will prevent the survivor from winning in November. But the five-way 2010 primary, won by Peter Shumlin by a whisker, didn’t prevent Shumlin from winning the general election. The 2020 four-way contest for lieutenant governor didn’t kill Molly Gray’s chances. I see no sign that this year’s highly competitive primary race for U.S. Congress will be a hindrance to the eventual nominee.
This is all assuming that Scott does, indeed, run for a fourth term. I hear occasional whispers that he might be ready to step aside. If he does, look out! Don’t get between the crowd of candidates and the Secretary of State’s office. You might get trampled.
But those people are cowards. They won’t convince me otherwise by suddenly finding their courage after Scott is out of the way.
In the meantime, we’ve got Siegel and nobody else. She may not win, but she’ll do her best to dent the governor’s Teflon coating. She’ll make him work for it. If that’s all she does, that’s more than the Democrats have managed to do in the past. I’ve said it before: Phil Scott’s reputation for being unbeatable has grown in party because of feeble Democratic efforts to beat him. One thing you can say for the newly declared candidate: She’s not feeble.