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.
While we wait for the final September 1 campaign finance reports to trickle in, here’s a little thing I noticed. Bruce Lisman, failed (and self-funded) candidate for governor, founder of Campaign for Vermont, and former Bear Stearns executive who may have been portrayed as a real dummy in the movie version of “The Big Short,” has made a total of three donations* to Vermont candidates so far this year.
*Update! Phil Scott just reported a $1,000 contribution from Lisman. So, four.
Together, they could serve as the dictionary definition of “mixed bag.” Let’s see if you can discern a pattern here.
He gave $500 to Sen. Joe Benning’s campaign for lieutenant governor. Not surprising at all.
He gave $500 to Patricia Preston’s hopeless bid for LG as a sort of centrist.
So far we’ve got what used to be called a mainline Republican and a moderate Democrat. *Plus a putatively moderate Republican.
The third fourth gift? $1,000 to “Farmer” John Klar’s campaign for state senate.
The long decline of the Vermont Republican Party hit another low point last week when the party failed to recruit a warm body to run for state treasurer. Instead, they’re offering a double dose of perennial candidate and Best Dressed Man In Vermont Politics H. Brooke Paige. He’ll run for treasurer and secretary of state, so expect a double dose of big hats in candidate forums this fall.
Also, expect him to lose. Just like all the other statewide Republicans save Phil Scott. The governor could lose, but you can’t expect it the way you can for Gerald Malloy or Liam Madden or Rick Morton or that guy who’s running for attorney general or Paige or Paige.
Joe Benning I put in a different category. I expect him to lose to David Zuckerman but at least he’s a credible candidate, unlike all those other folks.
Errrrr… all those other men.
Before I go on, yes, I did recently write about the Republican primary field, the “usual collection of unknowns, kooks and zealots.” But things have only gotten worse since then, and I wanted to put a bow on the whole verkakte mess.
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.
I suppose it’s only befitting that the race for Vermont’s Warm Bucket of Piss has produced a lot of voters who don’t have a preference or even know who’s running.
The UNH Survey Center Poll Sponsored by WCAX-TV dropped its final piece on Friday, covering the races for governor and lieutenant governor. Nothing new in the gubernatorial; Scott has a commanding lead and he gets substantially better job approval ratings from Democrats than Republicans. (The Democratic voters professed to care more about climate change than anything else, which shows either how little they’re paying attention to the policy debate or how much they’re lying about caring.) Democrat Brenda Siegel remains a heavy underdog, but I think she’s used to being underestimated.
The LG headlines were all about the leaders, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and Sen. Joe Benning, but the real news was the number of undecideds. Both races remain in doubt with the primary just around the corner. The front-runners have the edge, but not as much of an edge as expected.
The UNH Survey Center poll of Vermont’s two Congressional races was laughably bad for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. It was downright embarrassing for Nolan. The poll has her six points behind Generic Angry White Guy Gerald Malloy and 18 points behind “Undecided.”
More on this in a moment, but I wanted to add three thoughts to my earlier post on the Gray/Becca Balint poll.
First, this is not about Super PAC spending. Sure, three progressive PACs have spent a combined $600,000 on independent activities in support of Balint. But the bulk of that money was spent this month, and a 42 percentage point spread just doesn’t happen that quickly. Even people who run these campaigns would acknowledge that they’re working the margins, trying to move the needle by a few percentage points. The Super PAC support certainly makes Gray’s task harder but if she blames her predicament on them, she’ll be wrong.
Second, if a 42-point deficit wasn’t enough bad news for Gray, there’s also a favorability gap. Balint was seen favorably by 72% of respondents, and unfavorably by a mere 6%. Twelve percent had no opinion. The same categories for Gray: 42% favorable, 19% unfavorable, 8% no opinion. The gist: there’s only a small pool of gettable voters for Gray. Only 13% are undecided. If this poll is anywhere in the ballpark, Gray has a huge deficit and little room to make progress.
Third, Natalie Silver is a freakin’ genius. She’s run a seemingly flawless campaign for Balint. Maybe we should have seen this coming; TJ Donovan never looked better than when Silver was his chief of staff. (She was also involved in Gray’s surprising run to the Bucket of Warm Piss in 2020.) I suspect that if Balint goes to Congress, Silver will be in her inner circle because why the hell wouldn’t you want Silver at your side? But if Silver doesn’t go to Washington, she’ll be the hottest commodity in Vermont politics. And rightfully so.
If you want to encapsulate the Vermont Republican Party’s statewide ballot woes, the latest campaign finance reports spell it out right clear.
The four Democratic candidates took in a combined $110,000 in the period ending July 1.
The two Republicans? $8,000.
It’s even worse when you look at campaign-to-date totals. Democrats: $308,000.
Republicans: $16,000. (Sen. Joe Benning $14K, Grgory Thayer $2K.)
Now, the usual caveat applies: Money is only one way to measure the strength of a campaign. There are other factors — name recognition, a strong network of grassroots support, an ideology that appeals to a significant piece of the electorate. But c’mon. You’ve got to have some money to be competitive. The Republican hopefuls just don’t.
Gregory Thayer and John Klar are both running for office this year. Thayer, for lieutenant governor; Klar, for state senator. And as is the current strategery for far-right candidates, they are trying to present themselves as mainstream conservatives.
Let’s do Thayer first. I thought I’d check in on the trainwreck race for the Republican LG nomination, which features serious human being Sen. Joe Benning versus Thayer, who attended the January 6 insurrection (heck, he helped organize a bus tour to the thing) and put together a nice little anti-critical race theory road show. Both VPR — err, Vermont Public — and VTDigger have hosted LG debates recently. Digger’s suffers from horrible audio quality, so I watched the Vermont Public Ra — cough, sorry — event.
Benning, of course, ran rings around Thayer logically. But Thayer’s demeanor was curiously subdued because he was trying to be someone he’s not.
It looks like 2022 will be The Year of Turnover. Not only in statewide offices, but also in the Legislature. Earlier today I wrote a post about the House losing five committee chairs; since then, I’ve learned of three more. Plus one more Senate chair. And other prominent figures as well.
The departing chairs: Carolyn Partridge of House Agriculture, Maxine Grad of Judiciary, Tim Briglin of House Energy and Technology, and Michael Sirotkin of Senate Economic Development.
Let’s take the House first. Even if there are no more retirements, nearly half of all House committees will have new chairs come January. Partridge will have served 24 years in the House and 12 as chair of Agriculture (the committee’s name has changed multiple times but always included Ag). Grad has 12 years in the House, eight as Judiciary chair. Briglin has been in the House for eight years and chaired E&T for four.
Add that to our previous toll of lost experience, and you get 92 years of departing chair tenure and 153 years in the House. The former figure is the one I’m focused on here; if you add all the House departures, you’ll get a much, much higher number for the latter.
It’s gotten to the point where I feel sorry for Christina Nolan, the drug-enforcin’ former U.S. Attorney turned nudge nudge, wink wink moderate Republican candidate for Pat Leahy’s Senate seat. First, whatever she was promised in terms of financial and organizational support has failed to materialize. Second, she’s going to spend the next several months sharing the stage with a bunch of far-right zealots before like-minded audiences. The crowd and the stage will doubtless include people who don’t believe that Her Kind are entitled to equal rights or, for that matter, existence.
If these events get any coverage at all, they’ll torpedo her effort to campaign as a moderate. She’ll have two choices: play to the crowd and hope not to be quoted in the press, or stick to her campaign’s message and risk getting booed off the stage.
The first stop on this Trail of Tears is on Saturday at the palatial Double Tree Hotel, the flower of South Burlington, where the VTGOP will hold a luncheon (which is what they call “lunch” when they’re trying to sell expensive tickets*) and meeting to discuss and approve the party’s dog-whistly platform, in which the concept of moderation gains no purchase.
“Trying” is the operative word here. Last week, the party was offering a $15 discount off the $55 list price for those who bought tix before this week; then, on Monday and Tuesday it offered the same deal. In fact, on both days it sent an email saying the discount was still available but would end at “midnight tonight.”
And while we’re on the subject of Republican desperation, the party is STILL selling merch from the infamous “Let’s Go Brandon” rally held last November. Paul Dame’s garage must be full of that junk.
Nolan will be forced to have the opportunity to share the stage with the likes of her little-known and veeerrrrryy conservative primary opponent Gerald Malloy and the party’s two hopeless Congressional candidates, Anya Tynio and Ericka Redic. Also sharing in the rubber chicken: the party’s two candidates for lieutenant governor, the estimable Sen. Joe Benning and the execrable Gregory Thayer, 2020 election truther and Vermont’s most ardent opponent of whatever he imagines critical race theory is.
Nolan and Benning should expect the crowd to be ideologically in sync with the True Believers on stage and skeptical (at best) of their professions of inclusive Republicanism. At least the two can commiserate about waging an uphill battle with no resources and feeling compelled to cozy up to the VTGOP’s far-right base.
After the jump: Coming Soon to a Grange Hall Near You