Tag Archives: Becca Balint

Molly Gray Has a Friend at the Messenger

Meet Emerson Lynn, editor emeritus (and editorial writer) for the St. Albans Messenger, respected presence in Vermont journalism, and, according to a letter to the Messenger, court stenographer for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s campaign for Congress.

On Thursday July 14, the Messenger published an editorial written by Lynn endorsing Gray in truly fulsome terms and bashing her main opponent, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. The essay sounds like it was written by the Gray campaign.

Which, maybe it was.

The letter is from Natalie Silver, who was an advisor to the 2020 Gray campaign and is now Balint’s campaign manager. (I was told about the letter and inquired with the Balint campaign, which supplied it to me.)

In the letter, Silver accuses Lynn of being a shill for Molly Gray.

In 2020, during Gray campaign meetings, Silver wrote, “It was discussed openly that you were a Molly supporter and that the campaign would coordinate with you on your editorials, even drafting language for you.” Silver claimed the same thing is happening now on Gray’s behalf. Further, Silver asserts that “you have never spoken to me or [Balint], nor asked us a question about any of the various goings on in the campaign,” and, in fact, rejected the offer of a meeting. (Full text below.)

Silver doesn’t come across as selflessly heroic in this. In 2020 this arrangement helped Silver’s candidate and she was fine with it. Now it hurts her candidate and she’s complaining, so this is a case of situational ethics all around. But hey, situational ethics are standard in politics, are they not?

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Balint Bags Bernie Backing

Well, this is big.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has gone and endorsed Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint in her bid for U.S. Congress. It’s not technically a violation of the unwritten rule against taking sides in a party primary because Bernie’s technically not a Democrat, but still.

It’s not the first time he’s done this, but it is the most impactful. In 2020 he endorsed David Zuckerman over Rebecca Holcombe in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, but he didn’t do so until July 27. The white smoke wafted up the chimney three weeks earlier this time, which is crucial because mail ballots are already in circulation.

I can only speculate on the why. Is this one last shot in the sub rosa contest of ideas between fiercely independent Bernie and loyal Democrats Leahy and Welch? It certainly reads like a power play β€” a contest to see who really captures the hearts and minds of Vermonters.

The less Machiavellian reading is simply that Sanders sees Balint as an ideological match, and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray as an unacceptably centrist candidate. My guess is that it’s mostly the latter, and the former is the cherry on top.

I don’t think Leahy or Welch will be willing to break the rule for their Chosen One. But I bet they’ll bend it some more by continuing to say nice things about Gray without actually endorsing, and keeping their networks active on her behalf.

That’s a big help, but Bernie’s public support is bigger.

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Red Box, Black Ops

You know, I’ve been complimentary of Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the past. I’ve called her a history-making candidate who managed to win her very first election in a statewide contest. That’s an extremely rare feat. And now she’s a credible candidate for a seat in the U.S. Congress who’s earned the support of many party luminaries. Not bad at all.

But now? I’ve about had my fill.

Last night I wrote about her misleading attack on her closest rival, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Well, today Gray doubled down on the bullshit.

A reminder that this is about Super PAC money, which both candidates have forsworn. But Balint has been slammed for having a “red box” on her website. A red box is a link to talking points and images that could be used by Super PACs who want to run pro-Balint ads of their own. (The red box seems to be gone from Balint’s site; instead, there’s a link to a “digital toolkit” of talking points and images meant to be used by Balint supporters and not, I suppose, by any Super PAC that happened to wander by.)

Red box or no, Gray isn’t letting up. In fact, her campaign sent out a fundraising email blast today that fired all the rhetorical guns. You can see the full email at the end of this post.

It begins by accusing “our opponent” of “inviting dark money Super PACs into this primary.” Which is a stretch at best. But then it gets worse.

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In Pursuit of Performative Purity

A kerfuffle has seized the attention of #vtpoliland. It’s over the acceptance of Super PAC money, or connivance with those entities, by Democratic candidates for U.S. House.

And I’m here to tell you it’s fake news.

At a candidates’ forum last week, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray pestered Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint over accepting donations from Super PACs. The exchange ended with Balint forswearing such funds.

This week, we got Phase 2 of the kerfuffle, as both VTDigger and Seven Days posted stories about “redboxing” on Balint’s campaign website. That’s the practice of posting content meant to signal Super PACs about preferred messaging in any independent ads the organizations run. Nudge nudge wink wink, don’tcha know.

The fact that both outlets ran the same story on the same day tells me that they were likely tipped off by the Gray campaign, which sees this issue as a way to counter the impression that Gray is the establishment candidate. Which, to me, is a sign that Team Gray is a little desperate, going negative against the apparent front-runner.

Here’s the thing. Not all Super PACs are created equal, and it’s a fallacy to say that all Super PAC money is inherently evil. There are Super PACs run by giant corporations and oligarchs; there are others run progressive organizations, by labor unions, by LGBTQ+ groups.

Bernie Sanders has accepted Super PAC money from such groups, for Pete’s sake. So Neither Pat Leahy nor Peter Welch have had any previous qualms about such money. The latter has found religion this year as he tries to advance to the U.S. Senate, but he’s never seen Super PACs as universally problematic before.

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Governor Nice Guy Is Channelling His Inner Asshole Again

Gov. Phil Scott sent a letter to Legislative leaders on Thursday that was a tour de force of passive aggressiveness. In it, he said he was signing H.720 despite “a significant error” (italics his). What’s more, he alleged that this was just one of a series of unacceptably typo-ridden bills that has him questioning the Legislature’s basic competence.

As usual with his periodic coruscations of outrage, it’s overstated, mean-spirited and misses the point.

Funny thing for Mr. Nice Guy to be doing over and over again.

Scott felt compelled to express his displeasure despite the fact that the Legislature had already acknowledged the error and promised to fix it in 2023, via a well-established process to correct a bill that didn’t quite hit the bullseye.

The letter is pure condescension through and through. After slamming the Legislature over H.720, he goes on to infer that there were a bunch of bills with typos and mistakes. He doesn’t enumerate them, of course; I interpret that to mean it’s a pretty short list with picayune problems.

Scott concludes by expressing his hope that the 2023 Legislature “will resolve to have a better managed process with greater attention to detail.”

Well, la di da, Mr. Perfect.

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Game Changer

Balint, casually breaking the fourth wall

If there was any doubt about which Vermont media outlet provides the biggest platform, it was dispelled early this morning when state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale announced β€” exclusively on Channel 3 β€” that she was ending her candidacy for U.S. House and endorsing Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Not on VTDigger, not in Seven Days, not on VPR. Because as much as people like me get their news from those three outlets, TV can’t be beat for reaching a wide audience. Specifically WCAX. Although it’s becoming increasingly genericized under Gray Television’s ownership, it’s still the traditional powerhouse of Vermont television.

But enough about that. On to the story itself. Ram Hinsdale folded her tent and filed for re-election to the state Senate, where she might become a real force in a chamber that will have at least 10 new members come January. She may have stumbled this time, but she’s young, smart and hungry. She’ll be back on the statewide ballot.

Ram Hinsdale and Balint were competing for the progressive vote. Balint also had significant credibility in the Democratic mainstream, but she’d staked out policy positions that were as progressive as Ram Hinsdale’s. Balint has now earned the endorsement of her major challenger on the left, and must be considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary.

As much as anything else, this move is evidence of the deep disdain many Dems (and Progs) feel for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. This is an “anybody but Gray” move.

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Molly Gray, Campaign Finance Hypocrite

πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ to Seven Days’ Sasha Goldstein for doing what few reporters have bothered to do: He took a deep dive into Congressional candidates’ campaign finance reports. Those filings are more than a month old, but as he discovered, there was still plenty of meat on them old bones. Let him serve as an example to us all.

What did he find? Turns out Lt. Gov. Molly Gray has a f-ton of D.C. lobbyist money behind her campaign for Congress.

I don’t begrudge her raising money wherever she can. Running in a competitive primary for Congress is an expensive proposition, and I don’t really think she’ll be at the beck and call of big-money interests any more than St. Peter Welch has been. He’s taken loads of money from lobbyists and corporate interests. And we know he’s not compromised.

Don’t we?

Anyway. Gray is cashing in on her D.C. connections and her very real ties to the Welch/Pat Leahy orbit. Fine. Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale has received max contributions from quite a few AAPI donors, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint has the support of LGBTQ+ contributors and organizations.

They’ve all got their affinity groups. Gray’s happens to be D.C. insiders. But the trouble starts when this recipient of Beltway Bucks attempts to claim the moral high ground on campaign finance. She doesn’t have a leg to stand on, or a pickup truck to ride in.

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A Bucket of Goat Entrails Might be More Predictive

Hey folks! A poll! We’ve got a poll! Dispatch the political reporters immediately! Let them gather quotes from people with axes to grind! Surely We Shall Learn More About the Coming Campaign!

Or nah.

The online survey comes to us from the University of New Hampshire, which has a vibrant polling institute built on the spoils of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. It’s a little creakier than most polls, especially when it comes to the August primary (the margin of error for August races is a whopping 5.9%). That’s a big deal since the race of greatest interest is the August primary for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress.

I mean, we hardly need a poll to tell us that outgoing U.S. Rep. Peter Welch has a gargantuan lead over likely Republican nominee Christina Nolan. Or that Gov. Phil Scott is already being fitted for his fourth-term tiara.

What does the poll tell us about the race for the Democratic Congressional nomination? Basically, that it’s very close and a lot of people haven’t made up their minds.

Now, that’s excitement.

Not that the paid political operatives weren’t out there spinning like dervishes on Red Bull. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s campaign manager Samantha Sheehan takes the prize for highest spin rate. She pointed to slight advantages for her candidate in hypothetical November matchups as evidence that Gray is β€œbest positioned to keep this House seat in the hands of Democrats in November.”

How slight are Gray’s advantages? Couldn’t possibly be slighter.

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When is $2,900 Not Really $2,900?

The answer, in this case, is “when you can’t spend it.”

I’m referring to the maximum allowable individual contribution to a Congressional candidate, which is $2,900 for a primary campaign and another $2,900 for the general election. Candidates can collect both amounts before the primary, but they aren’t allowed to spend the second $2,900 until after the primary.

Well, in most cases it’s $2,900 twice. Some give the full $2,900 for the primary and some lesser amount for the general. All gifts are notated “Primary” or “General” in Federal Election Commission filings. But the gifts earmarked “General” still count towards a candidate’s total haul and cash on hand.

Should it? It’s arguable, but it’s the rules. Let’s set up a second category for primary dollars only and call it “effective cash on hand.”

This is kind of splitting hairs in the case of Republican Senate candidate Christina Nolan, who is the overwhelming favorite to win her primary. As reported previously, $37,700 of her cash on hand cannot be spent until the general election because nine of her donors gave more than $2,900 apiece. But at least she will get to spend that money… eventually.

That is decidedly not the case in the Democratic primary for U.S. House. It appears to be a close and lively contest among three leading candidates: Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, and state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale. One of them will get to spend those general election dollars; the other two will not.

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Ram Hinsdale Got the Headline, But Not So Fast

The latest federal campaign finance reports are in, and State Sen Kesha Ram Hinsdale took the headline by winning the first-quarter fundraising race among the Democratic candidates for Congress with $444,213. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint was next with $368,382. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, rather surprisingly, was third with $292,208 in first-quarter takings. (Sianay Chase Clifford isn’t competitive in the money race with a little more than $7,000 in donations. She’ll have to hope for a people-powered David v. Goliath effort.)

But those topline numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they’re downright misleading for a number of reasons. Ram Hinsdale took in the most during the first quarter β€” but if you look at fundraising for the entire campaign, Gray is first. If you look at cash on hand, Balint is first and Ram Hinsdale is a distant third. And that’s really the most important metric, isn’t it?

(Standard disclaimer: Fundraising is only one measure of a campaign’s strength. As long as you’re competitive, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve got. It’s how well you spend it and how strong your grassroots game is. But money is the only campaign metric that’s easily measurable, so we dutifully measure it.)

Another thing. Ram Hinsdale has 56 individual donors who’ve given the maximum $2,900 for the primary campaign. That’s $162,500 of her total, and none of those people can give to Ram Hinsdale again until the general election campaign. Balint, by comparison, has only 23 max donors, worth $66,700 of her total. She has a lot more room to go back to donors and ask for more money. (Gray has 27.)

On the other side of the ledger, Ram Hinsdale has been spending money at a brisk pace, including a boatload on out-of-state consultancies, strategists, and media production outfits. In fact, if you look at her fundraising and spending without knowing whose it is, you’d think you were looking at a big-money corporate Democrat’s campaign, not a self-described champion of working folk.

So let’s look at cash on hand which, to me, is the most important metric going forward. Balint has $432,597. Gray has $404,369. Ram Hinsdale? $218,691. She’s got much less room to fundraise, and she’s got half as much money in the bank. Does that sound like the “winner”?

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