This is Kind of Hard to Believe

This Just In from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center: a poll sponsored by WCAX-TV that shows a shockingly one-sided Democratic primary for Vermont’s Congressional seat. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint 63%, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray 21%.

Yikes. Double yikes with nuts.

This is waaaaay outside the margin of error or any reasonable disclaimers you could devise. I mean, there aren’t enough grains of salt on the beach.

I mean, I had the sense that the momentum was with Balint. But 42 percentage points?

Considering that Gray has spent much of her campaign complaining about out-of-state “dark money” (from national LGBTQ+ groups, primarily), I expect she’ll release a statement decrying “out-of-state pollsters.”

Or she’ll grit her teeth and try to ignore it.

The UNH Survey Center is one of the most experienced outfits in the field. They don’t make shit up. I think we have to give it due consideration without entirely dismissing the idea that this is just an extreme example of Polls Gone Wild.

But for argument’s sake, let’s accept it at face value. What in hell does it mean?

It suggests that Gray’s support was and is a mile wide and an inch deep. That she succeeded in 2020 in a fairly weak field, and she’s wilting in the face of tougher competition.

It also suggests that there are limits to her biography-heavy, issues-lite approach. It worked at first because she was a fresh face, but voters expect more substance from one of Vermont’s top elected officials.

It also validates one of my long-held beliefs: that voters simply don’t care about campaign finance.

Gray has used the issue much as Matt Dunne did in his 2016 run for governor. He made campaign finance the centerpiece of his campaign. He wrapped himself in the cloak of Bernie Sanders, specifically Bernie’s refusal to accept corporate contributions.

And Dunne lost the Democratic primary — badly — to Sue Minter. If Gray goes down to embarrassing defeat, it’s probably best that future candidates don’t lean on campaign finance as a difference-maker.

The survey might also reflect widespread disdain for Gray among Democrats. Many view her as a poseur short on principle and long on ambition. I think that’s harsh, but that’s how it is.

Meanwhile, thanks to endorsements from Sanders and former Congressional candidate Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale and other markers of progressive acceptability, Balint has uncontested claim to the Democratic left without alienating mainstream Dems or centrists.

On the other side, Balint has run a very strong campaign. When she entered the race, I thought the two-headed monster of running the Senate and running for higher office would hamstring her efforts. And it’s almost impossible to lead a caucus, which often involves making deals and negotiating compromises — and a certain amount of losing. It’s tough to do that and establish a clear policy profile.

Plus, there’s just the insane time commitment that both jobs entail.

But she did it, and did it with a smile. She’s taken some heat for being part of the public-sector pension deal. It cost her the support of the Vermont State Employees Association, although she kept the teachers’ union on her side*. But otherwise, she steered the Senate through a pretty successful session and still managed to campaign as her own person.

*If Gray loses badly, it won’t help the VSEA’s reputation as something of a Statehouse paper tiger.

Still, I’ll be surprised if the final margin of victory is north of 40 percentage points. But the survey suggests that what began as a tight three-way contest has turned into a landslide.

2 thoughts on “This is Kind of Hard to Believe

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