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.
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.
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.
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.
Pictured above is Patricia Preston, freshly-minted Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor who has a very low public profile. She’s got no track record in politics, but offers some decent credentials from the nonprofit world. She offers an unconventional resumé for a would-be politico. At 36, she’s young for a statewide candidate.
Are you starting to get serious Molly Gray vibes? Well, there’s more.
Preston is a native Vermonter who grew up on a family farm far away from the cosmopolitan (read: Not Real Vermont) precincts of Burlington. She graduated from the University of Vermont. She spent time working in the international nonprofit arena.
Her initial campaign video is practically a carbon copy of Gray’s, not that Gray’s was anything exceptional. It leans heavily on personal biography. Open and close feature Preston speaking directly to the camera; in between are images of a rural road, the family farm, aerial shots of Vermont towns, the Statehouse, a classroom, renewable energy projects, herself walking outside, herself staring into the sun. The only remotely controversial images show a solar farm and a scale model of two wind turbines, onscreen for a half second or so each.
Which brings us to her Gray-like agenda. It’s long on bromides and short on specifics. It’s full of praise for her home state and a hazy vision for how to make it even better. What does she hope to do as LG? “…help Vermont rebuild a resilient, safe, and healthy future for our families and loved ones, our communities, and this incredible state.” Yeah, that’s the stuff.