In a post following the September 1 campaign finance deadline, I noted that “three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line.” It put them in a potentially hazardous position for the general campaign.
Well, it would have if their Republican opponents weren’t all unknown, unfunded, and largely unloved.
I speak of Charity Clark (attorney general), David Zuckerman (lieutenant governor), and Sarah Copeland Hanzas (secretary of state). Zuckerman had $16,771 in the bank on the first of September; Clark actually entered September with a $1,200 shortfall, Copeland Hanzas had about $12,000 on hand, but only because she reported loaning her campaign $14,000. So, according to her own report, she had a $12,000 deficit outside of her own pocketbook.
Well, hold on a minute. According to her campaign manager Lizzy Carroll, that $14,000 number was a mistake. The actual self-loan was $3,500, which is not insignificant but it does make her bottom line look a lot better. The deficit falls from $12,000 to about $1,500. (She carried forward a $1,160 surplus from past campaigns, which would lower her real deficit to less than $400.)
Turns out, three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line. Now they’re strapped for cash entering the general campaign.
That’d be a real problem if their Republican opponents weren’t so utterly hapless.
Charity Clark went on a mass-media spending binge in early August. She spent a massive $81,000 in the month; $64,000 of that was for TV, radio, print, mail, and online advertising. She entered September with a cash deficit of about $1,200. Turned out she didn’t have to do all that spending, as she won her party’s nomination for attorney general over Rory Thibault by a better than two-to-one margin.
Sarah Copeland Hanzas’ war chest (obligatory war chest reference) was scraping bottom as the primary approached. She spent a relatively modest $15,602 in August, not much more than half what her rival Chris Winters spent. Copeland Hanzas had entered the race very late and never caught up in fundraising. She enters September nearly $12,000 in the black, but only because she loaned her own campaign $14,000.
Still, she won — by a scant two percentage points — and that’s what matters most.
David Zuckerman spent $57,149 in August as he sought to ensure victory over Kitty Toll, bringing his campaign spending total well over $200,000. He still has $16,771 in cash on hand, and an extremely large base of small donors who can be tapped for more.
As if it needed any more emphasis, the September 1 campaign finance reports starkly illustrate the difference in fortune between the Vermont Democratic and Republican Parties. In case you need to be told, the Dems’ war chest is on the left; the VTGOP’s is on the right. The exception is Gov. Phil Scott, who seems to finally be taking the campaign seriously. Maybe he’s a little worried about Brenda Siegel?
Fundraising numbers to date for statewide races besides governor:
Lieutenant Governor: David Zuckerman $236,687, Joe Benning $38,546. That’s the good one for the Republicans.
Treasurer: Mike Pieciak $126,500, H. Brooke Paige 0.
Secretary of State: Sarah Copeland Hanzas $74,078, H. Brooke Paige 0.
Attorney General: Charity Clark $129, 835, Mike Tagliavia 0.
Auditor: Invincible incumbent Doug Hoffer $100 plus a $1,115 surplus from 2020, Rick Morton 0.
Well, primary night turned out to be quite a bit less exciting than we thought. With a few exceptions, the races that seemed unpredictable weren’t, in the end, very close at all. What follows is a selection of post-midnight thoughts, none of which are about the gubernatorial race because the primaries were uncompetitive.
1. Those unbelievable polls were right about the Democratic primary for Congress. Becca Balint beat the metaphorical pants off Molly Gray. In the end, the margin was 23 percentage points. Remember back in January, when Gray had gotten off to a hot start and Balint was entering the race at the same time she had to manage the Senate Democratic Caucus? Seemed like Gray had the edge. Hell, it seemed like Balint might get squeezed between centrist Gray and progressive Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale.
I think Gray did have the edge at the time. So what happened? Balint caught fire with the Democratic electorate while Gray’s bio-heavy, policy-lite approach wore out its welcome. When it became clear that Balint was pulling ahead, Gray started flailing around, presenting herself as a pragmatist (be still, my heart) while depicting Balint as a Bernie Sanders clone. Yes, Bernie, Vermont’s most popular politician. Gray’s attack lines were implausible from the get-go. Did anyone really believe that Balint was an uncompromising ideologue or a captive of shady out-of-state money? No. For an attack to be effective, it has to be plausibly based in a candidate’s real or perceived weaknesses.
2. Everyone involved in Gray’s campaign has some soul-searching to do. Not only because they lost badly despite the very public blessing of St. Patrick Leahy, but also because they burned a lot of bridges in Democratic circles by going negative.
2a. Is this the end of Team Leahy’s dominance in Democratic politics? They bet big on Gray, and she rolled snake eyes. Leahy will remain a beloved figure but a sidelined one. His team, meanwhile, soiled themselves and dragged Leahy down with them. If there was any belief that they had the corner on political savvy in Vermont, well, that balloon has burst.
3. Oh Lord, the Republicans. They emerge from the primary with a statewide “ticket” of Gerald Malloy, Liam Madden, Phil Scott, Joe Benning, H. Brooke Paige, H. Brooke Paige, H. Brooke Paige, and H. Brooke Paige. The VTGOP now has a few days to cobble together a slate of candidates to supplant Paige, and none of them will have a prayer of a chance. Besides Scott, Benning is the only winner who’s not a walking, talking joke, and his campaign is operating on a shoestring. He’ll be a decent candidate, but he’s not going to win.
Well, the lively Democratic primary contests for attorney general and secretary of state continue to be lively, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
…with one sad exception. To judge by his campaign finance filing, Montpelier City Clerk John Odum has pretty much folded his bid for secretary of state. He’d been trailing in the money race with his two competitors, Deputy Secretary Chris Winters and Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, but in July he fell off a cliff. Odum raised $375 (from four donors) and spent $653. His only donation of more than $100 came from Montpelier property owner Fred Bashara, who kicked in $250.
As for the front-runners, Winters has modest edges on Copeland Hanzas with one exception: He has more than $25,000 in cash on hand to SCH’s $4,545. What he’s going to accomplish with that money between now and next Tuesday, I don’t know. If he loses, he may regret opportunities missed. The winner, after all, won’t need much of a bankroll to defeat whoever the Republicans dig up. And unspent cash won’t do the loser any good at all.
From the top: Winters raised $13,100 in July for a campaign total of $73,763. Copeland Hanzas netted $12,004 to reach $51,116 for the campaign. Not bad considering that she got a late start in the race.
I haven’t spent a lot of time covering this year’s debates, mainly because there are so damn many of ’em that I could spend all my time doing nothing but that, and there’s too much other stuff to write about.
Debates are considered key moments in a campaign. Candidates spend a lot of time preparing for them. Staffers dissect performances and adjust tactics for future encounters. But how many people pay attention?
Well, we’ve got a pretty good test case before us, and the answer is “hardly anybody.”
Last night, VTDigger hosted a debate for the two Democrats running for attorney general. By Digger’s own account, the affair highlighted some key disagreements between Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault and Charity Clark, who was ex-attorney general TJ Donovan’s chief of staff.
After it was live-streamed, the debate was posted on YouTube. As of this writing, it has been viewed 645 times.
Six hundred forty-five. For comparison, the last time the Democrats had a competitive AG primary was in 2012 when Donovan challenged Sorrell and nearly won. 41,600 people voted in the primary.
Third in a series. Part 1 covered the race for lieutenant governor; part 2 was about the race for governor.
The big money in the campaign for attorney general belongs to the guy who’s not in office anymore. TJ Donovan, recently departed for a sweet corporate gig that somehow advances his commitment to consumer protection, still has nearly $300,000 in his campaign treasury, most of it surplus from 2020. Unlike Treasurer Beth Pearce, Donovan has yet to disperse his money to other candidates or the Vermont Democratic Party or anyone else. I’m sure he’ll get around to it sometime. Or maybe he’s saving it for……
Regarding the people who want the job — former Donovan chief of staff Charity Clark and Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault — they’re in a competitive money race that leaves neither in a dominant position, although Clark has some advantages.
This race got off to a late start thanks to Donovan’s sudden decision to go corporate. The July 1 campaign finance reports include all of Clark and Thibault’s campaigns. Clark reported raising almost $80,000, while Thibault took in $74,000. But… Thibault donated $12,000 to his own campaign while Clark gave herself $4,000.
On the other hand, Clark raised $12K from people named Clark while Thibault only netted $4K from others sharing his last name, so those two factors are a collective wash.
Charity Clark stepped down today as Attorney General TJ Donovan’s chief of staff. The remarkably coy announcement of the move said she “has stepped down from her post to explore new opportunities” and would “make an announcement about her plans in the near future.”
Yuh-huh. She’s running for AG. She’s hinted as much, and it’s the most obvious reason for her sudden departure, which (a) apparently took immediate effect and (b) came only four days after Donovan announced he would leave office at the end of his term or possibly before.
I guess it ends all speculation that Clark might be elevated to acting attorney general should Donovan depart before Election Day, thus giving her the kinda-sorta incumbent’s edge. If so, it’s a noble and selfless move.
And it raises questions about Chris Winters, deputy secretary of state, who remains in office nearly three months after he announced his candidacy to succeed his boss, Jim Condos.
If Clark thought it best to resign before she even opened the doors on her campaign, why hasn’t Winters?
Well now. One day after Beth Pearce announces she will not seek re-election, along comes Attorney General TJ Donovan to say he’s stepping aside. Might not even finish his term, in fact. Already his top deputy, Charity Clark, has taken to Twitter to announce she’s considering a run to succeed him.
That’s four, count ’em, four, openings out of our six statewide offices, and six out of nine if you include Congressional seats.
Anything you’re not telling us, governor? Auditor Hoffer?
Besides the lieutenant governor vacancy in 2020, it’s been a long time since any Democrat could see a way to move up the ladder. Now, it’s not so much a ladder as a single step onto a boundless plateau. Who’s got next?
Besides Clark, I have no idea. I’d love to see Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George give it a shot, but she seems uninterested. She told VTDigger she will run for re-election instead because she’s more interested in criminal law than in the civil cases that make up the bulk of the AGO’s work. Otherwise, I’m sure there are boatloads of people contemplating a run for AG or Treasurer.
This is going to be one hell of an August primary.
Well, that’s a look at my political crystal ball, hopelessly opaque like a furiously shaken snowglobe. But there are still a few things to say about Mr. Donovan and the odd specifics of his departure.