Tag Archives: Kesha Ram Hinsdale

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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First Debate: A Truly Impressive Showing

Four of the five Democratic candidates for Congress had their first debate Tuesday night, obligatory sponsor credit to VTDigger, and I have to say, all four of them did extremely well. From start to finish, they put on one of the best debate performances I can recall viewing. Their answers were direct and concise (I only counted one time when an answer went over the 90-second time limit). Each of them had a clear message, in words and in presentation, and they got their messages across. A few jabs were thrown, but there were also expressions of respect. Camaraderie, even.

Maybe this is what we get when the women take the stage. Makes me think we’ve been electing the wrong gender all these years.

So, before I start picking away at this thing, I’ll say it again: I came away with a positive view of all four participants. You have to get down to the nit-picky level to find grounds for criticism. They even handled the “Name one mistake you’ve made” question with aplomb. None fell back on the “I can’t think of one” or “Sometimes I’m too smart for my own good” kind of stuff that you often hear from, well, male politicians. Each referenced a mistake, owned it and explained it, openly and honestly.

The debate was a real display of the importance of representation. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray named paid family leave as her top priority. I doubt you’d hear a man say that. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint made eloquent use of her identity as a gay woman. Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Sianay Chase Clifford showed how their lived experience informs their work on behalf of women and people of color.

I’m going to focus most of my attention on presentation, for two reasons: Voters are more swayed by their impressions than by policy positions. Likeability and relatability count for a lot, and I say that as someone who cares about policy. Second, there simply wasn’t much separation on the issues. Gray took a more moderate position several times, but that makes her a Pat Leahy/Peter Welch type, not some Republican in Democratic clothing. Ram Hinsdale and Chase Clifford positioned themselves in the progressive camp; Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint was, for the most part, right there alongside. She differed more in approach than in substance.

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The Forum Conundrum

Tonight (Wednesday), VTDigger is hosting a very important early event in Vermont’s most competitive primary race of 2022 β€” the Democratic contest for U.S. Congress. It’s the first high-profile candidate forum in the race. There are five declared candidates; four of them will be included.

Above is the other guy: Dr. Louis Meyers, hospital physician at Rutland Regional Medical Center. Why won’t he be there? Well, because VTDigger, for reasons of its own, refused to invite him.

I’m not here to bash Digger; I think they made a considered decision. But on balance, I think it’s a mistake to exclude Meyers.

Meyers is a moderate Democrat. He’s been a practicing physician for three decades, and offers first-hand experience with the health care system. No reason to not take him seriously so far.

The other side of the coin: Meyers has twice run for state Senate in Chittenden County and finished dead last in both Democratic primaries.

If pressed, Digger would likely point to his electoral record and claim that he has no proven appeal. Certainly not compared to the three heavyweights in the race: Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale.

But then there’s the fourth candidate, Sianay Chase Clifford. She has Congressional experience as an aide to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachiusetts, but she’s never run for or held elective office. And while she spent her youth in Vermont, she moved away to go to college and only returned to Vermont within the past two years. She has no more proven appeal than Meyers. So why will she be there?

Digger knows. I don’t.

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Big Money in the Democratic LG Race (And Other Campaign Finance Notes)

The big takeaway from the first campaign finance deadline of 2022 (for state candidates only, not federal) is that the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is going to be a heated affair. All four candidates raised respectable amounts of money, with a couple of them clearly rising to the top.

Disclaimer: Fundraising is not the only measure of a campaign’s health. Organization and grassroots appeal are also key, but it’s very hard to measure those and very simple to read financial filings, So we look for the missing keys under the streetlight where we can see.

Leading the pack is former state Rep. Kitty Toll, widely believed to be the choice of most party regulars. She raised $118,000, which is quite a lot for this early in an LG race. She had 323 separate donors, 227 of them giving less than $100 apiece.

Coming in a sollid second is former LG David Zuckerman, with $92,000. Patricia Preston, head of the Vermont Council on World Affairs, raised $89,000 with a big fat asterisk: $23,000 of her total came from in-kind donations. That’s a very high total, and it means she has far less cash on hand than it appears at first glance. Rep. Charlie Kimbell is a distant fourth with $44,000 raised.

You want deets? We got deets.

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Nothing Definitive in First Congressional Campaign Finance Reports

This week brought the first glimpse of the money race for the Congressional seat being vacated by Senator-in-Waiting Peter Welch, as candidates were required to report fundraising and spending for the fourth quarter of 2021. The headlines predictably focused on the bottom line: “Gray Outpaces Balint in Early Fundraising,” said Seven Days. VTDigger, which threw in Welch’s total for good measure, topped its story with “Welch led 2021 fundraising in Senate race, Gray in House campaign.”

The accompanying reports were the usual surface-scratch that follows filing deadlines. Lead with the totals, list corporate contributions if any, tick off a few notable donors, and call it a day. Not blaming any reporters for this; it’s part of the job, and nobody in the political press has enough knowledge (or time) to dig deep into the numbers.

Including myself, I hasten to add. I’ve been following this game for more than a decade, and I’m still largely ignorant about the backstage world of state politics. But I can tell you what I think I think.

First, while Gray did raise substantially more than Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, the latter raised more than enough to be competitive. Plus, we won’t have a marker for Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale’s campaign until April because she didn’t launch her campaign until after the close of the fourth quarter. So the real headline, the politically meaningful headline, is that it’s too soon to tell much of anything. But that doesn’t exactly drive the ol’ SEO, does it?

Bear in mind also that fundraising is only one indicator of a healthy campaign. If Balint’s got more volunteers or a stronger staff or a deeper statewide network, then she’s the true early leader. But campaign finance is the factor that’s visible from the outside, so it becomes the standard measure of a campaign’s success.

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So I Guess Performative Acts Are Okay Now?

When last we checked in with Senate President Pro Tem (and Congressional hopeful) Becca Balint, she was deep-sixing a mask mandate bill because Gov. Phil Scott would just veto it, thus making further action a pointless “performative act.”

Apparently she’s changed her mind because on Monday, she put on a performative act of her own.

The occasion was a press conference in support of ranked choice voting, a concept that was introduced in both the House and Senate in early 2021 and went absolutely nowhere in either chamber.

Well, it’s back this year, and those endorsing RCV included two of the three Democratic candidates for Congress: Balint herself and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, the two hopefuls actively competing for the progressive slash Progressive vote. RCV is a high priority for the Progs, so their support for RCV is no surprise.

But Balint’s endorsement was a performative act, plain and simple. Two points.

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