The LG Race Is a Good Test of Endorsement Power

Of all the contested Democratic primaries up for grabs on Tuesday, one race has effectively split the Democratic base in two more or less equal parts. Well, equal in import if not in numbers.

All of the liberal and progressive interest groups — labor, environmental, political — have all lined up behind former lieutenant governor David Zuckerman. They include VPIRG Votes, Vermont Conservation Voters, Sierra Club Vermont chapter, Sunrise Montpelier, Vermont State Employees Association, Vermont State Labor Council, AFSCME Local 93, American Federation of Teachers, Sheet Metal Workers Local 93, Rights & Democracy, Renew U.S., and Our Revolution.

At least two unions have not endorsed: Vermont NEA and the Vermont Troopers Association.

As for former Rep. Kitty Toll, the “Endorsements’ page on her website includes no organizations of any kind. She has an impressive list of individuals on her side, but none of the groups that normally support Democrats.

This is not true of any other primary race I know of. The groups are split between candidates.

What are those organizational endorsements worth? That’s the question, isn’t it?

These endorsements are prized and much sought after. Democratic candidates almost always engage with the groups, answering questionnaires, meeting with leadership, and attending forums. The groups’ support bestows bragging rights at least; Zuckerman posts his endorsements prominently on his campaign Facebook page, and I’m sure Toll would if she had any to brag about.

The endorsements get almost no media coverage except for maybe posting a press release, so they come and go in the darkness. They matter if the organization can motivate members to get involved in their chosen candidate’s campaign. Peoplw power, as it were. Donations, phone banking, canvassing, postcard writing, and of course voting. If all they do is a press release and an online issues list, they won’t move the needle much.

How many of those 12 groups on Zuckerman’s side are putting their muscle behind their endorsements? You’d have to ask them. The VSEA and Vermont-NEA are historically the strongest endorsees. They have the largest memberships by far, and they have a tradition of political engagement.

The bad news for Zuckerman: The NEA is sitting out the primary and the influence of VSEA leadership isn’t as strong as it once was. The interests of regular state employees and Corrections Department staff are often at odds, except at bargaining time. The other unions are fairly small, although AFSCME always tries to punch above its weight. The environmental and progressive groups mainly consist of people who would vote for Zuckerman anyway.

The phenomenon of unified support for a single candidate is noteworthy, to be sure. But it probably won’t make a lot of difference in the result. If Zuckerman prevails, it’ll primarily be a matter of name recognition (a factor that’s far more powerful than it ought to be) and the good will Zuckerman has built over years of progressive leadership.

But I’m sure the organizations will claim a share of the credit, warranted or not. Their influence depends on the perception of their political clout.


2 thoughts on “The LG Race Is a Good Test of Endorsement Power

  1. Eric Hutchins

    I’m not sure I understand this post. If he loses it’s a failure of organizational endorsements to have an impact , but if he wins it’s because of name recognition? Which is it? I think these endorsements mean that Zuckerman’s policy positions lineup more with the activists orgs, but Toll has respect inside the dome for her smarts and work ethic. What share of the vote would indicate positive impact of these organizational endorsements? I think if Zuckerman pulls 40% plus it means these endorsements make a big difference. If he loses, clearly not.

  2. Richard Hyde

    If you think that VT Digger performed irresponsibly by permitting Dwyer to violate its non-endorsement policy with her thinly veiled endorsement of Gray, then check the hypocrisy in the coverage by the Times Argus of the Barre Heritage Festival. Participating in the parade were all of the Democratic candidates for Lt. Gov. However, in its print editions over the course of several days, the TA only published large, color photos of Kitty Toll engaging the crowds even though her contingent was far smaller than those of other candidates. It was a tacit endorsement of Toll in violation of the paper’s stated policy.


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