On May 20, VTDigger’s Lola Duffort graced our #vtpoli feeds with an “it’d be funny if it wasn’t true” story about Christina Nolan’s campaign team. Or lack thereof.
Nolan’s campaign doesn’t list a contact person. It hasn’t identified any staffers. It communicates with the media through an anonymous email account with no phone number. The only name officially on board the Nolan Doomcruiser is former governor Jim Douglas, who’s serving as “campaign chair.” Otherwise, nada.
A perusal of her latest campaign finance filing shows no trace of paid staff. Lots of big checks for consultancies, including $16,000 to political sea lamprey Jay Shepard, but no actual campaign team. Which is sad, really, for someone hoping to compete with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch’s near-universal name recognition and nearly bottomless war chest.
But when you take a look at Nolan’s tone-deaf Twitter feed, the explanation is obvious: Nobody wants to take “credit” for this catastrophe-in-the-making.
👏👏👏👏👏 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.
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.
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!
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 “best positioned to keep this House seat in the hands of Democrats in November.”
How slight are Gray’s advantages? Couldn’t possibly be slighter.
I received a couple of polite emails over the weekend from one Isaac Evans-Frantz (or ISAAC! as his campaign logo identifies him), informing me that he would announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate today at noon, and inviting me to cover the event. “We haven’t seen much press yet about the campaign and thought you might be interested,” he wrote with a touch of wistfulness.
ISAAC! is a young man who’s done a lot of good things in his life. He brings ideas and energy to a campaign that exists entirely in the shadow of Senator-In-Waiting Peter Welch.
But no, I won’t be covering his announcement. Well, I guess I’m sort of covering it by writing this, but the rest of this piece won’t be about him. It’ll be about Quixote-style candidates and what we owe them.
Which is not much, really.
Look, I respect anyone who gets into the arena. Almost anyone; nothing for Cris Ericson here. Extra respect if ISAAC! really commits to the campaign instead of sitting around waiting for invitations to debates. But that doesn’t mean he deserves coverage.
Well, the shower drain of political news is once again backed up, so it’s time to apply some rhetorical Liquid-Plumr and get the system going again. In today’s installment: the VDP at a crossroads, a really stupid lawsuit from a once-reputable publishing house, a complaint about Peter Welch being too good at fundraising, and maybe the worst political cartoon I’ve ever seen. Let the plunging begin!
The Vermont Democratic Party needs to take a look in the mirror. The VDP is once again looking for an executive director. Claire Cummings lasted about one year on the job before offering her resignation under circumstances unknown. As I wrote upon her hiring, “Cummings is the fourth person to hold the job in less than four years — and the fifth, if you count then-party chair Terje Anderson’s unfortunate tenure as interim ED in 2019.” Well, now they’re looking for their fifth in five years, or sixth if you count Anderson.
It’s sad. It’s pathetic. It’s a mess. And now the VDP must hire a new ED in the middle of election season. It needs someone who can hit the ground running with deep knowledge of Vermont and of campaigning. And it desperately needs someone with the guts to confront party elders if need be. I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee. No names, because I don’t know where the search is going to go. But i can tell you one thing: If they hire someone from outside the state and/or someone under the age of 25, it’ll mean they’re happy with the status quo. Or, to put it another way, it’ll mean they’re seriously out of touch and full of unwarranted conceit.
Christina Nolan’s longshot bid for U.S. Senate got quite a bit longer last week, with the filing of first-quarter campaign finance reports. For starters, as expected, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch did what he’s always done — fundraise the hell out of his opposition. He pulled in $839,000 and spent roughly half of that, bringing his total warchest to a daunting $2.96 million.
Nolan? She received $157,000 in donations and spent about one-third of that, leaving her a smidge over $100K in cash on hand.
Thirteen of Nolan’s donors gave the maximum $2,900 for the primary campaign. Eight of those 13 also gave an additional $2,900, which must be reserved for the general election. That adds up to $37,700. One other person gave $5,000, of which $2,100 must be spent on the general. So her effective cash on hand — money she can spend between now and August 11 — is only $61,747. Which means that right now, today, Welch’s kitty is effectively an astounding forty-eight times as large as Nolan’s.
Ouch. Double ouch with nuts. I was going to make a David v. Goliath reference, but this is more like Bambi v. Godzilla. If this race wasn’t done and dusted already (hint: it was), these filings remove any remaining whispers of doubt.
The Vermont Senate’s seniority-heavy lineup is about to become a serious problem. That’s because current Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, seen above possibly contemplating the task of herding the caucus cats, is leaving the Senate to pursue a bid for Congress. And win or lose, she won’t be in the Senate beyond this term.
Which means the Senate will have to replace her no later than next January. And I’m here to tell you exactly how shallow the talent pool is. And that’s because so many senators have overstayed their sell-by dates.
Out of the 30 senators, a full 16 are basically too old to step into the top spot*. They’re not necessarily too old to be effective lawmakers, but they’re clearly on the downslope and I doubt that any of them would even want the job.
Before I get accused of ageism, let me expand on that cold assessment. Most of the senior senators are comfortable in their roles. They are not looking to take on a new level of responsibility. Heading the Senate caucus is a big, troublesome job. You’re always putting out fires or facing the press or twisting a fellow senator’s arm. It’s also something you tend to take on when you’re set on climbing the political ladder, not when you’re fat and happy.
Look at the last several Pro Tems. John Campbell was 47 years old when he assumed the office. Peter Shumlin and Peter Welch were in their primes, and clearly had their eyes on higher positions. There were a couple of short-time Republicans in the mid-90s; John H. Bloomer served from 1993-95; Stephen Webster succeeded him for a single term. Bloomer was 63 when he became Pro Tem; he had had a successful political career and would certainly had continued if he hadn’t been killed in a car crash in January 1995. Webster was 52 when he succeeded Bloomer; he would continue his political career well beyond his time as Pro Tem.
Before them, and four years of Peter Welch, there was Doug Racine, a relative youngster when he became Pro Tem. Tim Ashe was in his early 40s, and Balint was 53. All these folks, save Webster, were far younger than today’s cohort when they led the chamber. It’s no job for old men. It is a job for the ambitious. Of the past seven Pro Tems who survived their tenures, only two (Webster, Campbell) did not seek higher office. And Campbell got the job largely because of his lack of ambition; senior Senators had a very free hand under his, cough, “leadership.”
So, former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan has entered the race for U.S. Senate as a Republican. She launched her campaign with the requisite folksy video that touts her record as prosecutor, trumpets her native Vermonter status, and includes the obligatory barn scene.
And positions herself as a moderate who can “work across the aisle” to Get Things Done For Vermonters. As opposed to U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, who she characterizes as “too left.”
Yes, the Peter Welch whose lowest vote total in the last ten years was 64.4%. Yes, the Peter Welch who constantly boasts of his work with the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. And yes, the Vermont that keeps electing Bernie Sanders.
Oh well, she doesn’t stand a chance anyway. The only way Welch will lose is if he dies before Election Day, and he seems awfully healthy to me.
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.
The field is set. Maybe. The third of the expected candidates, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, launched her bid Thursday morning.
Who knows, there might be other people who want to succeed senator-in-waiting Peter Welch in the U.S. House. There might even be candidates credible enough to face up to the three very talented women already in the race.
But even without any further entries, this is already promising to be the toughest primary campaign in Vermont since 2010, when Republican Jim Douglas’ retirement prompted five Democrats to run for their party’s gubernatorial nomination. Peter Shumlin won that election by a mere 176 votes. This one could be as close. It’ll likely be far more expensive.
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Senator Ram Hinsdale. It seems certain that one of these three will become the first woman to ever represent Vermont in Congress. (The Republicans have no shot.) And right now, I have no earthly idea which one it will be. When it was a two-person contest I gave Gray the edge simply because of statewide campaign experience and name recognition. The three-person faceoff is far less predictable. Maybe Gray is the early fave, but the margin is so small as to be effectively meaningless.
As for That Poll… “it’s far too early” doesn’t even need to be said, does it? The “VPR – Vermont PBS 2022 Poll,” as we are obligated to refer to it at every opportunity, not unlike the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, shows Gray in the “lead” with 21 percent support, Balint at 7, and Ram not showing because she hadn’t declared her candidacy when the poll was conducted. Actually, the lead spot went to “Not Sure” at 32% followed by “Unlikely to Vote in the Democratic Primary” at 30%.
Gray’s showing reflects her head start in name recognition and nothing more. That doesn’t make her the “unquestioned frontrunner” as one out-of-state political operative claimed. It’s like if the Red Sox scored a run in the top of the first and the announcer called them “the unquestioned favorite to win the game.”