The Money Race: Gubernatorial

Second in a series on the July 1 campaign finance reports. The first installment covered the race for lieutenant governor.

We’re livin’ in an upside-down world, I tell ya.

There are six campaigns for statewide office. Second from the bottom, from a fundraising perspective, is the race for governor.

Yep.

Gov. Phil Scott and Brenda Siegel have raised a combined total of $82K. The only cheaper campaign is Auditor Doug Hoffer’s bid for re-election. He has raised precisely zero dollars in the past year. He carried forward a $1,115 surplus from 2020; he’s spent $862 of that, including a $200 donation to the Vermont Democratic Party. I guess he’s not worried about taking on H. Brooke Paige or whatever patsy the VTGOP digs up to take Paige’s place.

Otherwise? The six candidates for lieutenant governor have raised a combined $324K, including a paltry $16K for the two Republicans. The two Democrats running for attorney general check in at $154K. The three Dems competing for Secretary of State have raised a combined $120K. And good ol’ MIke Pieciak, running all by his lonesome for the Democratic nomination to succeed Beth Pearce, has raised $106K.

Meanwhile, the race for governor tootles along below the radar.

Scott can’t be bothered to run at all unless he thinks he’s facing a serious challenge. He raised $37K since March 15, and $40K for the entire campaign cycle. Siegel, meanwhile, got a very late start, but still outraised Scott by roughly $500.

It’s a nice little victory point for the underdog candidate, but it doesn’t signify much for the coming campaign. Scott carries forward $272K from his 2020 low-effort candidacy, so he has a massive edge over Siegel in cash on hand. He won’t try to raise any more unless he really has to.

And even if he really has to, he won’t really have to. If there’s any chance of him losing, national Republicans will spend big on his behalf. They did so in 2016; they didn’t need to in 2018 or 2020. So far this year, the Republican Governors Association’s Super PAC, A Stronger Vermont, hasn’t spent a dime. I expect that sometime after Labor Day, they’ll do some polling and then decide if they have to step in.

So. The governor hasn’t even tried but he still has a significant resource edge over Siegel, plus untold millions poised and ready from the RGA if needed.

Siegel doesn’t stand a chance, right?

Well, “everybody” thought Peter Shumlin would beat Scott Milne in 2014, and he barely survived. Stranger things than a Siegel victory have happened. The odds are against it, but never say never.

And there are some positive signs in her donor list: prominent Democrats coming forward and kicking in some bucks. Renewable energy developer and frequent Dem donor David Blittersdorf has given Siegel the maximum $4,210. State Rep. Tiff Bluemle has given $4,205 and her partner Elizabeth Shayne $2,105. Major VDP donor Cheryl Van Epps gave $3,000. Former governor Howard Dean gave $600; VDP chair Anne Lezak $300; party vice chair, Democratic national committee member and former state Rep. Tim Jerman $250; AG candidate Charity Clark $200; outgoing Treasurer Beth Pearce $200; outgoing Rep. John Killacky $150.

That’s far more than Siegel has ever raised from mainstream Democrats. I guess some of them realize that Siegel is the only person willing to seek their party’s nomination, so they ought to feel some obligation to support her. I hope more of them get that memo.

Siegel’s path to victory, such as it is, depends on one thing that will happen, one that could happen and one that’s highly unlikely. The first is effectively confronting Scott in debates and exposing the holes in his moderate reputation, driving a wedge between Scott and centrist Democrats. Siegel is more than capable of doing that and Scott is pretty thin-skinned when it comes to criticism. He’s simply not used to getting any.

The second is Republican complacency: Scott and the RGA fail to take her seriously until it’s too late. That’s what nearly killed Shumlin in 2014.

The third — least likely but most potentially impactful — is if the Scott administration takes a header. Say, the state’s economy starts to go sour or Covid-19 makes a comeback in the fall (as it did last year).

Siegel’s path to victory doesn’t depend on raising the amounts of money normally required for a gubernatorial race. She’s not a conventional candidate. Success depends on grassroots enthusiasm and effective organizing, not a big splashy media blitz.

It’s a narrow path fraught with obstacles, but the July 1 reports gave her a small but morale-boosting win. La lucha continua.

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