Recently I was talking with a couple of friends in the #vtpoli world, and I casually remarked that 2022 should be a good year for the Vermont Democratic Party. I thought it was kind of obvious, but I was met with puzzled looks. So I explained my reasoning. And I thought that if the VDP’s advantage is less obvious than I thought, maybe it needs to be explained in this space.
I’ve got six reasons for seeing a big 2022 ahead for the Dems. Let’s start with their inherent advantage in the Vermont electorate. Statewide, a generic Democrat starts out with at least a 10-point edge over any Republican not named Phil Scott. In the Legislature, the Dems consistently hover right around the two-thirds mark — usually just above in the Senate, just below in the House. But at worst, they can expect to hold more than 60% of all legislative seats. (It must be really depressing to be a Republican lawmaker, knowing you have little influence and no prospects.)
Other factors give the Dems an even bigger edge in this particular year. Like Proposition 5 and the U.S. Supreme Court. When Democrats proposed enshrining reproductive rights in the state constitution, it seemed kind of superfluous. I mean, who’s going to ban abortion in reliably blue Vermont? Now, with the high court’s majority trending in a Handmaid’s Tale direction, reproductive rights are in question. Even before Alito Mussolini’s decision was leaked, Vermont Democrats saw Prop 5 as a turnout-booster in a non-presidential election year. Now, reproductive rights are front and center and Prop 5 is, as they say about police procedurals, “ripped from the headlines.” It should galvanize pro-choice voters.
After the jump: Money, organization, an unprecedented campaign season, and a unique Democratic resource.
Next, the Republicans are, as usual, divided and impoverished. They’ve given up on healing the ever-widening rift between Scott and the party base. They still can’t afford to hire staff, even at a time when the major parties are usually up-staffing. VTGOP fundraising is a failure. Since January 1, 2021, the VTGOP has received $141,000 in donations. The VDP took in $752,000. Last month, as election season loomed, the VTGOP took in a measly $6,115 in donations. More than two-thirds of that total, $2,350 in all, came from the Republican National Committee. Another $1,000 was given by archconservative superdonor Lenore Broughton. Everybody else? Peanuts.
The VDP, in that same month, received more than ten times as much money, $69,000 in all. And that’s a VDP that was undergoing a massive transition in leadership and staff.
The money gap is likely to grow between now and November because the VDP has new, smart, experienced leadership in place. Recent party chairs have focused on the fun stuff (policy) at the expense of the scutwork (organizing, fundraising, diplomacy). New chair Anne Lezak’s expertise is in the unglamorous side of running an organization. Early returns on her chairship are strongly positive. New Executive Director Jim Dandeneau knows Vermont politics, knows how to run winning campaigns, and is fully engaged in organizing and fundraising. Things should only get better for the party as the new leadership settles in.
The different fortunes of the two parties will have greater impact in a year of historic turnover among officeholders. The Dems will be much better positioned to take advantage of a year when two Congressional seats, four of the five statewide offices, and more than one-third of the Legislature are all changing hands. Recruitment, training, experience and fundraising will be at a premium. The VDP is much better resourced in all those areas. In recent cycles, the VTGOP hasn’t come close to filling out its dance card. There’s little (I would say no) hope for statewide candidates not named Phil Scott, and it’s going to be extremely difficult for the Republicans to recruit a full slate of candidates for safe Republican seats, let alone find competitive hopefuls in swing districts and give them the necessary backing.
VTGOP chair Paul Dame has complained quite a bit about Emerge Vermont, the organization that identifies and trains Democratic women to run for office. As well he should, because Emerge is a tremendous resource for the VDP and the Republicans have nothing to match it. Emerge provides a ready, willing, and educated pool of candidates. As anyone who’s coordinated a legislative campaign can tell you, recruitment is a huge headache. (If Broughton had any political savvy, she’d pull her funding from the little-read True North Reports and invest in a Republican counterpart to Emerge. Or a Republican training system for potential candidates of any gender. Something, anything, really. Fortunately, she’s not that smart.)
(Hope I haven’t given her any ideas.)
So that’s why I say 2022 should be a good year for the VDP. Not to burden the new leadership with high expectations or anything. But hey, the expectations should be high. Barring an upset victory by Brenda Siegel in the gubernatorial race, the Dems will need veto-proof majorities to effectively advance their agenda. To me, they’ve got a very good chance of doing so. If they don’t, they will have fallen short of their potential in a year when all the stars are aligned.