Looks Like Maybe We Got Ourselves a Race

There were no competitive primaries for governor last month, but there were definite signs that business is picking up. Gov. Phil Scott and challenger Brenda Siegel increased their fundraising from their previous very modest levels. In fact, it seems as though Scott actually began putting some effort into it last month, which is something he famously doesn’t like to do. Conventional wisdom has it that Scott will win in a walk. Do the August numbers suggest he’s getting a bit concerned about Siegel?

As of July 31, Scott had raised a total of $49,989. In August alone he upped that to $54,580, bringing his campaign total north of $100,000. He also has a $272,000 surplus from previous campaigns, so he’s not cash-poor by any means.

Siegel, meanwhile, took in $44,259 in August, which made it her best month to date. She’s raised a total of $103,195, a few thousand less than Scott. And of course, she doesn’t have a handy-dandy surplus to fall back on.

There are a couple of notes that make Siegel’s performance better than the sheer total. First, she had a burst of fundraising in the last few days of the month. If that momentum carries forward, she’ll do fine. She won’t match Scott dollar for dollar, but her campaign won’t live or die on money alone.

It’d also help if Scott kicked a few more balls into his own net, as he did this week with the announcement that an emergency rental assistance program was virtually out of money — something his officials failed to notice or predict. As a result, thousands will lose rental support at the end of this month, and thousands more at the end of November. You know, just when it’s getting seriously cold?

Speaking in purely political terms the issue is tailor-made for Siegel, who made her mark by camping out on the Statehouse steps last fall until Scott reversed course and added funding to another emergency housing program.

But back to the August fundraising. The other point in Siegel’s favor is the sheer volume of donors. She’s inspiring large numbers of small-dollar gifts, and many are giving regularly throughout the campaign. She had 261 separate donors in August, bringing her campaign total to 556. That’s nearly 200 more than Scott.

Of those 556 Siegel donors, only 15 were above $100. The governor has more high rollers on his donor list; one-third of his backers gave more than $100.

But he ain’t hurting for money. He can give the ol’ spigot a couple twists if he really needs to. Plus, the Republican Governors Association would come in hard if they saw electoral peril for Scott. So far their Super PAC, A Stronger Vermont, has spent about $300 this year. In August, it spent a mere $30.16. By all appearances, ASV isn’t even doing any prophylactic polling as it has in past cycles.

In case you were wondering, the Democratic Governors Association equivalent, Our Vermont, hasn’t done jack shit this year. Well, they’ve filed a series of “No Activity Reports” reflecting, well, no activity. That’s all.

Compared to her past two campaigns, Siegel is fundraising at a brisk pace and she has plenty of room to grow. But she’s in a bigger fight against a tougher opponent this time. If she’s going to win or at least make it close, it won’t be because of an overflowing war chest (obligatory war chest reference). It’ll be because of her toughness and dedication to the issues and a groundswell of grassroots support. And real backing from the Democratic Party, not just lip service. That’s the kind of muscle that money can’t buy.

Scott’s the favorite, and he will be until further notice. But Siegel is doing well enough to be competitive. Now all she has to do is keep it up for another two-plus months.

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