Category Archives: 2020 election

The Progressive Regression

My recent post about the Vermont Democratic Party drew more reaction than just about anything I’ve ever written… with the notable exception of the Latin Motto controversy. Almost all of it was positive, and much of it came from young folks who feel like they got the cold-shoulder treatment from the party.

At least a couple of people asked me to do the Progressive Party. And while I did briefly address their failings in my post-election “Winners and Losers” piece, there’s more to be said.

Short take: 2020 was a disastrous year for the Progs. They managed to hold onto their seven-seat caucus despite three retirements and one upset defeat, which is noteworthy. But otherwise, the bad far outweighs the good.

Let’s start with the electoral defeats of two prominent Prog-identified pols. Tim Ashe finished a distant second to Molly Gray in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman lost by 41 points to Gov. Phil Scott.

It’s hard to understate how big a setback this is for the Progs. They’ve suffered a huge loss of influence in the Senate, with Ashe’s departure as President Pro Tem and Zuckerman relinquishing the gavel. Also, Ashe and Zuckerman were the Progs’ top two hopes for statewide office. They had built their political careers over more than a decade of success, but they’re off the charts (at least for now).

Also, the magnitude of their losses calls into question whether the Progressive label is statewide electoral poison. Ashe lost by 11 points to Molly Gray, who was a complete political unknown at the beginning of the year. Zuckerman faced impossible odds in taking on Phil Scott during the pandemic; but even so, 41 points???

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I’m Sure Vermont Democrats Think They’re Trying. They’re not.

On the surface, the Vermont Democratic Party did just fine this election. Sure, Phil Scott cruised to re-election and they lost a few legislative seats. But Scott was virtually unbeatable thanks to his patient, measured response to the pandemic. Besides, it wasn’t one of their own who took the bullet, it was David Zuckerman, a Prog/Dem with the emphasis on Prog. And they elected a bright new hope, Molly Gray, to the lieutenant governorship, held onto the other statewide offices, and held on to lopsided majorities in the House and Senate.

But when you take a closer look, this was a sneaky bad year for the Dems. They once again let Scott steal their lunch money. This was a bad year to take him on, but they’ve barely tried to beat Scott in the last several cycles. Since the 2010 race for lieutenant governor, they’ve put up a parade of under-resourced first-timers against Scott, and he’s barely had to break a sweat.

Gray’s victory is nice, but she was up against a terrible Republican candidate. As for the Legislature, if this wasn’t the year to rack up gains, I don’t know what is. They had the benefit of widespread anti-Trump animus to drive support for down-ballot races, and failed to capitalize.

I didn’t realize how much the Vermont Dems were resting on their structural advantages until I listened to a pair of podcast interviews from the fine folks at Crooked Media. The first featured Ben Wikler, head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, the second was with Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, founder of of Project Fair Fight. Both have taken state parties that faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and both have turned those states into Democratic success stories.

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#Election 2020: #vtpoli Winners and Losers

We call this “foreshadowing”

As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.

Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.

Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.

If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)

Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.

*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.

Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.

I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.

I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.

After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.

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America’s Walk of Shame

A long string of #vtpoli takes will follow later today. But first I’m invoking Blogger’s Privilege to turn my attention to the national results.

As of this writing, it looks like Joe Biden will eke out a narrow victory, unless Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett help Trump steal the thing. But even if Trump loses and vacates the White House, this has to be seen as a victory for Trumpism and a big blow to those hoping for a decisive win for Democrats.

I mean, look: The guy botched a pandemic. That alone should have killed his chances for another term. But the base stayed loyal, and gave Republican politicians no grounds for abandoning Trumpism even if they wanted to. The conservative media ecosystem will continue to crank out the toxicity. There are plenty of Trump true believers in high office. The Republicans seem on track to hold the Senate. Its leadership has engaged in 10 years of hard-core obstructionism, and they’ll limit Biden’s ability to do anything positive. (Forget about court reform or voting rights, just for starters.)

In fact, progress in a Biden Administration will be limited to restoring the institutional damage done to the executive branch under Trump, and doing whatever he can by executive order. And if any liberal Supreme Court justices were pondering retirement (lookin’ at you, Breyer), they’d best do it quick. As Senate Judiciary chair Lindsey Graham said after declaring victory last night, “Here’s the message I got: People like what I’m doing, and I’m going to keep doing it.” If a seat opens up anytime after the summer of 2022, the Senate’s gonna play a long game of keep-away and hope for a Republican victory in 2024. Hell, they’ve already proven they’re shameless.

After the jump: our long sad history.

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Gazing at the Ol’ Crystal Ball

Election Day. Seems like it took forever to get here, but it’s still a shock that the day is finally here. And while all the attention and anxiety is focused on the national scene, this little outpost of the Internets is all about the #vtpoli. So here are my ridiculously low-stakes takes on what’s going to happen tonight in Vermont. Refunds cheerfully offered; please keep your receipt for presentation at Customer Service.

The most likely outcome is an even-more-ridiculous version of the past four years: Phil Scott and a whole lot of Democrats. Scott seems to be a lock to win a third term. Personally, I think a Dave Zuckerman win is at least a possibility, but much more well-informed folks than me believe otherwise.

Who? Well, Scott himself for one. He conducted an entire gubernatorial campaign on the absurdly tiny budget of $307,000 (as of October 30). He never bought a single television ad. This is the closest thing to a nickel-and-dime George Aiken campaign budget that the modern era will allow.

Beyond Scott, there’s the wise guys at the Republican Governors Association, who spent almost as much on polling as Scott did for his entire campaign. The RGA’s Vermont branch, Our Vermont, kept on polling right up to the closing weeks, and never saw the need to buy a single ad — in any medium.

If you’re a Republican, that’s the good news. The rest of it could be really, really bad. We’re looking at an historically high turnout, which is customarily good news for the Democrats.

How bad could it be for the Grand Old Party?

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The Jim Douglas Memorial Panic Room

Flash them pearlies, Jimbo!

Just as he and Gov. Phil Scott did in 2016, Scott Milne has taken his ballot and run and hid in the Jim Douglas Panic Room. “I’m voting for Jim Douglas,” Milne said in a Monday appearance on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show. “As of today, my plan is to vote for Jim Douglas, but I’m going to vote on Election Day.”

Nice. He resorts to the write-in, but leaves himself an escape hatch in the Panic Room.

Both Mine and the governor have repeatedly indicated their distaste for President Trump. And in 2016, both opted to write in The Beau Ideal of the VTGOP. (The Gov has yet to declare how he will vote this year.)

I suppose Milne would explain his vote as an endorsement of moderate Republicanism and a wish that more Republicans acted like Jim Douglas. By which he means working with all parties, not the other stuff — the employment of attack-dog Jim Barnett in his campaigns and his opposition to marriage equality and his often contentious relationship with the Democratic Legislature.

But even if you ignore the flaws in Douglas’ good-guy image, there’s a less flattering way to look at Milne’s presidential choice.

Seems to me that what he’s saying is he’d rather toss his ballot in the dumpster than ever, ever, ever vote for a Democrat. Even Joe Biden, who has a reputation very much like Douglas’ for getting along with everybody.

So what kind of bipartisanship is that, anyway? If you dislike Trump so much, why not cast your vote in the most effective way possible — for Joe Biden?

Because voting for a Democrat is a bridge too far for these guys, even when their own party’s leader is a racist crypto-fascist kleptocrat.

That’s quite a statement.

A Curiously Expensive Bucket of Warm Piss

Something is happening that almost certainly has never happened before. In the general election campaign (post-primary), the candidates for lieutenant governor have outspent the candidates for governor.

This is mainly because Republican Scott Milne continues to drop large amounts of cash for TV ads. In the past week, Milne has reported mass media buys totaling roughly $140,000, with all but $1,600 going for TV spots. (The remainder was for robo-calls.)

Campaigns filing mass media reports are required to list any candidates mentioned in the material. Milne’s October ads mention himself and Democrat Molly Gray. I’ll assume they don’t paint Gray in a flattering light… and I’ll assume we have heard the last of Milne’s whining about negative campaigning, since he’s gone ham on the whole attack thing.

Since the August primary, Milne has spent a total of $102,000 on TV ads alone. He’s spent nothing on radio, and hardly anything on newspaper ads.

Gray hasn’t reported any mass media buys since 10/15, and has spent $52,000 since the August primary. Her media buys are widely distributed among TV, online and mailing, and she spends a lot more than Milne on staffing, organization and events. As I wrote earlier, Milne has adopted the Disembodied Head style of campaigning.

The race for governor, meanwhile, has been running on the cheap. Gov. Phil Scott has spent $11,000 for online advertising since 10/15, while Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman’s most recent mass media buy was on the 16th — $25,000 for TV ads. Nothing since.

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Mad Dog in the Kennel of Nice

Baby face… You’ve got the cutest little baby face…

It made for an amusing read. VTDigger’s piece about Jim Barnett’s role in the Scott Milne campaign featured several Republicans doing verbal acrobatics as they tried to explain why the self-described moderate required the services of a political operator described as “a nasty guy,” a “hitman,” and “Mad Dog.” (The latter was bestowed on Barnett by the late Peter Freyne, grand master of the unflattering nickname.) And a guy who claims political assassins Lee Atwater and Karl Rove as professional inspirations.

So, how does he fit into a campaign that claimed, from the getgo, to be all about the issues?

“He knows how to win a campaign and there’s not a lot of people in the Republican world in Vermont that know how to win,” state Sen. Richard Westman told VTDigger.

OK, so it’s transactional. Fine. Them’s politics. But — and I know I’ve written this before — you can’t go negative and simultaneously claim to be Above It All. And you have absolutely no grounds to complain if your opponent follows you into the gutter.

In that vein, I hereby offer a script for a campaign ad that’s not negative, as Barnett and his colleagues put it, but is based on carefully selected facts designed to make Scott Milne look like a bum, and Molly Gray look like a saint.

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10/15 Campaign Finance Filings: Same Old Song (UPDATED)

Nothing in this column bears illustration, so let’s go with some clickbait.

In case you were wondering why all the commotion last night — the rowdy partying, the fireworks, the parades, the desperate closing-time hookups — well, the mid-October campaign finance reports are in.

Yippee!

There’s nothing that changes the complexion of the Vermont political season, but there are a lot of fascinating details. Let’s get started!

The Governor is in cruise control. Phil Scott’s campaign didn’t even break a sweat in the first half of October. He pulled in $41K, bringing his campaign total to a measly $376K. (For those just joining us, conventional wisdom has it that you need at least seven figures to seriously compete, and $2 million is a better starting point.) What’s really telling, though, is that he only spent $14K in the past two weeks. He did a bunch of small newspaper ad buys and no TV. He didn’t pay a dime to his big national campaign outfit, Optimus Consulting. He has over $100,000 in the bank, and shows no sign of making a serious dent in it.

Zuckerman fights the good fight. The Democratic/Progressive nominee is a spider monkey battling a gorilla: Impressively crafty, but likely to get squashed. Zuckerman raised a healthy $62K in the two weeks since October 1, for a campaign total of $629K. And there’s the problem: it’s really not enough money to fuel a statewide campaign against an entrenched incumbent.

If you look at his donor list, you see where his problem lies. He’s getting a ton of small gifts, but the Democratic power players are sitting it out.

Look at these numbers. Scott has 1,141 unique donors, and has taken in 768 “small” donations of $100 or less. Zuckerman has 5,234 donors, and has accepted 6,055 donations of $100 or less. (The latter number is higher because many of his donors have made multiple gifts.)

Even with Scott’s late entry into active campaigning because of the coronavirus, those are some telling numbers. Despite his broad popularity, Scott doesn’t have people lining up to give him money. Zuckerman has a much larger base of enthusiastic donors.

But his problem is, he isn’t getting the big money to augment the small fry. The state’s two largest public sector unions wrote big checks to Beth Pearce, Doug Hoffer, Jim Condos and TJ Donovan — but nothing, as far as I can tell, for Zuckerman.

Meanwhile, Democratic megadonor Jane Stetson donated $500 to Zuckerman’s campaign. That’s a buck in the tip jar for Stetson. If she was committed, she and her husband WIlliam would have each kicked in the maximum $4,160.

That’s only one data point, but it illustrates the disconnect between Zuckerman and the Democratic moneybags. He also, apparently, hasn’t received any money from Vermont’s Congressional delegation. (Bernie has done his bit for Zuckerman on the intangible front, but no direct contributions.)

Zuckerman has received a healthy $13,000 from the Vermont Progressive Party, which makes the absence of Democratic cash all the more glaring. And he’s given $22K to his own campaign. He’s needed every dime.

Still to come: The LG race and the PACs, including a surprise entry for most impactful PAC of the cycle.

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Why Are Liberal PACs Giving Thousands to Beth Pearce?

Nothing against our incumbent state treasurer, but she’s sailing to re-election and a bunch of liberal PACs have just made big donations to her campaign. Sure, reward a faithful officeholder and all that, but she doesn’t need the money and she’s not spending the money.

Look: Her Republican opponent, Carolyn Branagan, has filed her October 15 campaign finance report — and it shows no activity whatsoever since the previous reporting deadline of October 1. No fundraising, no spending, nothing. Before that, Branagan’s campaign had been a low-budget affair largely funded by herself. She’d raised $26,000 including $20,000 from herself, and spent $18,000. Total. On a statewide campaign.

Pearce, meanwhile, had raised $25,000 and spent a little less than 10 grand as of October 1. Her opponent has essentially given up, she drew 68% of the vote in 2018 and hasn’t been seriously challenged since her first run for the office in 2012. If she has a pulse on November 3, she’s gonna win.

During this 15-day reporting period, the VT-NEA Fund for Children and Public Education gave Pearce the maximum $4,160. The VSEA PAC has donated $1,500. VPIRG Votes chipped in $400. And she got $250 apiece from the Professional Firefighters of Vermont and the Vermont Building Trades PAC.

(She’s also received $2,000 from Emily’s List, but those are pass-through contributions from individuals giving to Pearce through the List. No conscious effort on Emily’s part.)

This shouldn’t really bother me, but it does. I mean, why?

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