Much of the post-election analysis has concluded that Governor Shumlin’s extremely narrow apparent victory is a repudiation of his more progressive policies (esp. health care) and that, in response, he’ll have to move toward the center.
There’s some truth in that. On health care, for instance, I really believe he’s got to get Vermont Health Connect up and running before he can expect anybody to support any kind of single-payer plan.
It’ll take more than free food to win back the base.
However, there’s ample evidence in the unofficial election returns for a very different analysis: the Governor would have sailed to an easy re-election if he hadn’t lost the left wing. There were sizable numbers of liberal voters who (1) stayed home or (2) cast protest votes for Scott Milne, Dan Feliciano, or a write-in. (They felt safe doing so because Milne was such a weak candidate, ha ha, that nobody felt the need to cast a defensive vote for Shumlin.)
As for #1, turnout hit an all-time record low. ‘Nuff said. Conservative voters were motivated, liberal voters were uninspired. The rest of this post will explore #2.
Previously, I cited the vast difference between Shumlin’s vote total and Congressman Peter Welch’s. In the final unofficial results (posted Saturday on the Secretary of State’s website), Welch received a total of 123,349 votes.
Shumlin got 89,509.
That’s a difference of nearly 34,000 votes. To put it another way, more than one-quarter of all Welch voters did not vote for Peter Shumlin.
That’s a stunning figure. But wait, there’s more.
I checked Shumlin’s totals in four Democrat-friendly state Senate districts: Bennington, Windham, Orange, and Washington.
In the Bennington district, Gov. Shumlin got 6,522 votes. He badly trailed Dem incumbent Dick Sears, who got 7,965 votes. That’s over 1400 Sears supporters who did not vote for the Governor.
In the solid blue Windham Senate district, the Governor’s home turf, he was outpolled by Sen. Jeanette White, the top vote-getter for two Senate seats, by a margin of 7777 to 6758.
More than a thousand votes lost, in the county he’s lived almost his entire life.
In Orange County’s Senate district, Shumlin trailed incumbent Democrat Mark MacDonald by 561 votes — MacDonald’s 3797 to Shumlin’s 3236. Which was virtually identical to MacDonald’s margin of victory over his Republican opponent, Bob Frenier.
In fact, if Frenier had equalled Scott Milne’s total and MacDonald had equalled Shumlin’s, the Senate seat would have flipped to the Republicans. So a sizeable number of Orange County voters split their tickets, opting for the Milne/MacDonald combo platter.
In the three-seat Washington County district, Shumlin drew 9,173 votes. That’s almost 2,000 behind top Democrat Ann Cummings (11,167) and 1300 behind Prog/Dem Anthony Pollina (10,474).
Reminder: The Prog/Dem Pollina was, by far, the most liberal of the Senatorial candidates in Washington County. He was believed to be vulnerable to a strong challenge from Republican Pat McDonald. In the end, Pollina was re-elected by a substantial margin.
Governor Shumlin trailed Anthony Pollina, ardent supporter of single-payer health care and higher taxes on the wealthy, by 1300 votes. Those numbers undercut the dominant narrative, that this election’s message was to go slow and move to the center. Pollina ain’t moving to nobody’s center.
Add those four districts, and Governor Shumlin lost more than 5,000 votes compared to the top Democratic Senate candidates.
In short, if the Governor had simply held onto his base, nobody would be talking about a Scott Milne squeaker.
In addition to all these numbers, I can tell you that every liberal I’ve heard from since Tuesday has told me stories about diehard Democratic voters who simply could not bring themselves to vote for Shumlin. That’s anecdotal evidence, but there’s a lot of it around.
I’m sure the Governor lost plenty of votes in the center. But he shouldn’t take this election as a mandate to shy away from progressive policies, and Republicans should be cautious about claiming 2014 as a mandate for them. This election was less about ideology than it was about disappointment in and distrust of Governor Shumlin.
The left wing of the Democratic Party has had its doubts about Shumlin from day one. He was seen as more of an opportunist, a triangulator, than other Democratic contenders in 2010. He placated the left by touting his opposition to Vermont Yankee and promising an all-out push for single-payer health care. During his two terms in office, he has done little to earn the respect of the left, and done much to forfeit their trust. His 2013 push to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit was seen as a betrayal on the left, as was his continual opposition to any sort of tax hikes on top earners. The awful performance of Vermont Health Connect is a mortal threat to single-payer.
If he wants to make a comeback, establish a legacy for his governorship, and perhaps try to run for a Congressional seat one day, he would be well advised to make peace with Vermont liberals instead of turning himself into Phil Scott Lite.
p.s. Yeah, I know, there are lots of liberals who already see him as Phil Scott Lite. Particularly “lite” on the perceived honesty and integrity of our Lieutenant Governor.