Tag Archives: David Zuckeman

VPR/VPBS Gov Debate: Into the Valley of Death

In today’s first gubernatorial debate of the general election campaign, David Zuckerman showed us how it can be done. He came straight at Gov. Phil Scott with a well-articulated progressive critique. He was polished, he was focused, he fought the good fight, and it probably won’t do him a damn bit of good.

Interstitial note: The debate was cosponsored by Vermont Public Radio and Public Television, but for the life of me I can’t find the video online. The link above is to the VPR audio.

It was the stoutest debate challenge Scott has faced in his three gubernatorial campaigns — and more. Zuckerman is the first experienced statewide campaigner Scott has faced in his SIX runs for governor or lieutenant governor.

Scott has usually had the benefit of facing the B-Team. Previous opponents did their best, but Cassandra Gekas, Dean Corren, Sue Minter and Christine Hallquist ain’t exactly Murderers’ Row. All four were in their first statewide campaigns, and two had never run for any office. Scott has also enjoyed the soft opposition of those willing to cast him as a well-meaning Nice Guy who’s kind of a Republican In Name Only.

There is a solid Democratic/Progressive critique of Scott; it’s just sat on the shelf for most of the past decade. Zuckerman pulled it down and discovered that there’s some power in that weapon.

Unfortunately, he drew the short straw. He’s opposing Scott at the high point of the governor’s popularity. But Zuckerman is drawing a roadmap for future campaigns against Scott, and may at least put some dents into that Teflon coat.

As for Mr. Nice Guy, he responded with some rare attacks at Zuckerman and quite a bit of passive-aggressiveness — Scott’s favorite variety of aggressiveness when he’s not behind the wheel of Big Green No 14. At this point in his tenure, all aglow with the universal praise for his handling of the pandemic, Phil Scott is unaccustomed to confrontation.

He also, at this stage of his political career, fresh out of new ideas.

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Initial Thoughts on a Robust Primary

So many votes, they barely fit

With the exception of the 462-candidate pile-up that was the Chittenden County Democratic Senate primary, it was an election night bereft of drama. The big races turned out to be uncompetitive, and all were called early in the evening. Which is not to say it wasn’t interesting, at least not to political dead-enders like me. So, thoughts in no particular order:

The Laracey Effect is strong. My own invention, the Laracey Effect is named for Mel Laracey, a deputy city treasurer in Ann Arbor, Michigan many moons ago. He decided to run for State House in an extremely competitive primary. It did not go well; he finished in the back of the pack. Because everyone in and around City Hall knew him, he thought that meant everyone knew him. But in truth, the vast majority of voters had no connection to City Hall.

Tim Ashe is well known in Burlington and Montpelier. He and pretty much everyone else thought that made him well known across the state. Not true. And when the pandemic prevented him from campaigning until the end of June, his fate was sealed.

I thought Molly Gray was going to win, but I was far from certain about it. Turned out she won easily. More easily in a competitive four-way race, in fact, than David Zuckerman did in (effectively) a two-way race. Zuckerman beat Rebecca Holcombe by 10,552 votes. Gray beat Ashe by 11,679, and came within 510 votes of Zuckerman’s total.

Ingram, by the way, was an even bigger victim of the Laracey Effect, believing she had a substantial statewide profile. She finished a distant fourth, and was never a factor in the race. So was former legislative counsel Peter Griffin, who ran for the House seat being vacated by Kitty Toll and finished a poor second.

Expanded mail-in voting was a resounding success. Record turnout when neither of our Senate seats were on the ballot, and with little apparent drama in either race for governor. With universal mail voting available in November, we’re on course to set another turnout record. It’s also a strong argument for mail voting everywhere — that is, if you like maximizing participation in our democracy. At least two of our three political parties do.

There was a lot of unhappiness with the Democratic gubernatorial choices. There were 6,569 write-in votes, more than six percent of the total. (Most of them presumably cast for Gov. Phil Scott.) There were 7,739 blank ballots for governor. Think of that: Seven percent of those who bothered to cast votes couldn’t be bothered to choose a gubernatorial candidate. That’s stunning. And seems to reveal a broad dissatisfaction with the choices on offer. One more sign that Zuckerman has some serious work to do.

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The Progs’ irony trap

I just realized that it’s been a long time since I’d given any thought to the Progressive Party as a force in state politics.

What reminded me was Terri Hallenbeck’s piece about the Stanaks, “a family divided over a Vermont election.” It’s the story of a stalwart progressive (and Progressive) family that’s gone in different directions this cycle. Paterfamilias Ed Stanak, motivated by opposition to ridgeline wind, is backing Phil Scott. Daughter Lluvia Stanak is working on the Sue Minter campaign. Her sister Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, is officially neutral.

That’s because the Progs opted to sit out the gubernatorial race, failing to field a candidate of their own and refusing to endorse anyone else. I vaguely recall knowing that at some earlier point, but I’d managed to completely forget it until now.

The non-endorsement kinda made sense at the time. Sue Minter looked like an offshoot of the Shumlin administration, which had burned the Progs twice over by snagging their endorsement in 2010 and 2012 and then bailing on their number-one issue, single-payer health care. The Progs were, understandably, twice bitten and thrice shy.

It looks a lot worse now, what with Prog stalwart David Zuckerman fully on board with the Democratic ticket and Bernie Sanders going all-out to boost the Minter campaign. Indeed, the Progressive Party looks out of touch and almost irrelevant.

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The two triangles

With the entry of Shap Smith into the race for lieutenant governor, the two high-profile Democratic primaries have assumed weirdly parallel dimensions.

Each has three candidates.

Each has two men and one woman.

Each has two figures from the Democratic mainstream (one man and one woman), plus one man with a more independent streak.

(Matt Dunne may argue about the “mainstream” characterization,but let’s put it this way. He’s been a Democrat for quite a while. He held elective office as a pure-D Democrat. He’s not a narcissistic cuss like the other man in the gubernatorial race.)

There are parallel dynamics and uncertainties. Each woman is, obviously, in a position to capitalize on the pro-woman vote. (A lot of us want to improve Vermont’s woeful record on electing women to high office.) If she can do so and her two opponents split the “male” vote, she has a path to victory.

Each woman has also gotten off to a rocky start, and (so far) failed to galvanize broad support. Not that any of the men has been setting the world on fire.

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