Tag Archives: Peter Welch

Vermont’s Most Closely Contested (and Unpredictable) Primary Since 2010

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.”

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Here’s a Delightfully Sketchy Candidate for the U.S. Senate

Friends and fellow Vermonters, cast your eye on a man who would replace Pat Leahy in Washington, D.C. No, it’s not Senator-In-Waiting Peter Welch, who is certain to win as long as he is still drawing breath come Election Day.

This, folks, is Kerry Patrick Raheb, independent Senate candidate, political conspiratorialist of the first water, wannabe cannabis entrepeneur, and shady investment advisor who has left a string of lawsuits in his wake. The flattering photo above is from his campaign website. (A DuckDuckGo image search turned up precisely one photo of Raheb from independent sources. Dude keeps a low profile.)

Raheb is one of the most colorful characters to grace our ballots in recent memory. He’s not quite Brock Pierce-level, but he’s not far off either.

His campaign website has the garish design sense of mid-period AngelFire. Cheesy graphics, eye-watering color combos, and even a countdown clock!!! (Counting the days, hours and seconds till Election Day.) I haven’t seen one of those in years. All that’s missing is an 8-bit version of “God Bless America” on autoplay.

Raheb’s sense of humor is reflected on a page called “Belches Corner,” a clever reference to Peter, um, Belch. Raheb’s fine grasp of policy can be seen in a passage on American energy independence. He says we’d achieved it under “the prior administration,” but that damn Joe Biden wiped it all out with an executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline.

You know, that pipeline meant to import Canadian oil into the States.

Well, he probably thinks of Canada as effectively a subsidiary of the U.S.A. so I guess its oil counts as domestic?

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The Vague Visionary

Well, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray has come out swinging. Today she declared her candidacy for the Congressional seat now held by U.S. Senator-in-Waiting Peter Welch with a two-minute campaign video simply dripping in Vermontiness. Lots of shots of Gray working on her family farm, tramping through the countryside, walking down quaint small-town Main Streets, a heavy dose of her all-Vermont-all-the-time personal story, and…

… no specifics whatsoever on issues. No platform. No policy positions.

But as much as I poke fun at the sheer obviousness of the video, it’s a damn effective piece of work. Vermonters do love themselves some Vermont, after all; wrapping herself in the Freedom and Unity flag is a winning move. Especially since she can honestly claim all that stuff. She was born and raised on a family farm. She did go to UVM on a skiing scholarship. She did work her way through Vermont Law School. (She still owes student debt, and ain’t nothing more Vermont than that.) She did come back home after a stint with the International Red Cross.

And, with precisely the same playbook, she did come from nowhere to win election as lieutenant governor.

Only a year ago, yes. But hey, who’s counting? Her very brief political resume sure didn’t hold her back in 2020, and I don’t think 2022 will be any different.

Yeah, she’s the early favorite to win the Democratic primary and the general election (against a no-hope Republican, no doubt) and become Vermont’s first female member of Congress.

When I say “early favorite” it’s not an endorsement. It’s the political form book. It’s the Vegas line. I might not vote for her, but I wouldn’t bet against her.

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The Assumption of St. Patrick

The view from the cheap seats

Well, he did it.

In a crowded Statehouse meeting room, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy announced that he will not seek re-election next year.

I’d heard of his decision from enough sources that I felt confident in writing it up last week, but I wasn’t entirely certain until he actually said it himself. “Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that it’s time to put down the gavel,” he said. “It’s time to come home.”

He received standing ovations at the beginning and end of his statement from a few dozen Democratic bigwigs. The press were shunted off to one side, which did not allow for the slightest bit of social distancing. We were just part of the scenery; Leahy did not take questions from the peanut gallery.

And now the dominos begin to fall. But that’s a story for another day.

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Rumblings

A major tectonic shift in the Vermont political world seems to be underway. If you listen closely, you can hear the rumblings.

According to the very active political grapevine, Sen. Patrick Leahy will not seek re-election, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch will run for his Senate seat, and at least three prominent Democrats are rushing to fundraise and assemble a team to run for Welch’s seat.

I’ve also heard from one good source that Gov. Phil Scott won’t run for re-election either. I’m not sure if I believe that; there’s no way he’d lose in 2022 unless the pandemic goes hog-wild (which is at least a possibility after the last two days’ case counts). But then, Scott isn’t your typical politico and isn’t motivated by the usual political impulses. Could be he’s feeling the strain of managing the pandemic for the better part of two years.

We’ll leave that aside for the moment and go back to Leahy. I’d expected him to run for another term for several reasons: He’d set the all-time record for Senate seniority in his next term, he’s at the pinnacle of power, and as chair of Senate Appropriations he can ensure a steady supply of federal dollars to Vermont.

Also, cynically, an elderly Senator can be propped up by a reliable staff, which Leahy has. But I don’t know his personal situation; looming health issues for him or wife Marcelle could easily lead him to step aside. Or maybe he just wants to enjoy some retirement time. Or maybe he thinks the Republicans will take control of the Senate in 2022. That’d make another term a lot less appealing.

After the jump: Jockeying for position.

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We Are Just Way Too F***in’ Polite Around Here

Painting by Marc Adornato. See note below.

When, in a previous post, I called on Seven Days to fill its vacant “Fair Game” position with a skilled reporter/observer from outside Vermont, I got a response via Twitter that essentially said that #vtpoli is too “insular” for an outsider to penetrate. (Can’t find the tweet now; apologies to the tweeter.) My response to that would be “Exactly!” Vermont’s politics are far too insular. That’s precisely why we need someone from elsewhere who hasn’t internalized all that insularity and/or has too many friends in the bubble. Someone with the perspective that allows them to see that the emperor has no clothes.

We’ve got a really good example of that insularity going on right now. Last week, the state Public Utilities Commission issued a ruling that wasn’t at all surprising, but that defied common sense. The three-member panel rejected a proposed solar farm in Manchester on esthetic grounds.

This, despite the fact that we’ve got to go all-out in our efforts to mitigate climate change, and that Vermont is doing nowhere near its share on the renewable front. Also despite these facts:

  • All the relevant local and regional bodies approved the project.
  • No one, aside from a handful of NIMBY neighbors, objected to it.
  • The developer went above and beyond the call of duty to minimize esthetic impact.
  • The PUC’s own “aesthetics consultant” said the array “would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.”

So it was a stupid decision that strikes a significant blow at renewable development in Vermont. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.

The subject of this sermon is the almost complete silence from those who ought to be outraged by this ruling: the Vermont Democratic Party and The Usual Suspects in the environmental community. Where was the tsunami of protest?

The answer is, we’re way too polite and insular.

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#Election 2020: #vtpoli Winners and Losers

We call this “foreshadowing”

As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.

Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.

Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.

If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)

Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.

*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.

Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.

I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.

I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.

After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.

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What if that poll was hot garbage?

For the entirety of our general election season, there will be only one public opinion poll that took the temperature of the race. That would be the September VPR/VPBS poll, conducted by the estimable Rich Clark.

The results of said poll, released about two weeks ago, were very good for Republicans. Gov. Phil Scott had a commanding 21-point lead over Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. In a hypothetical 2022 matchup with Sen. Patrick Leahy, Scott had a rather stunning four-point lead. In the Lite-Gov race, Scott Milne was a little behind Molly Gray; the latter two results were within the poll’s margin of error. Also, the governor had a higher approval rating than any of Vermont’s three members of Congress — even Bernie.

This poll looms large in the narrative of the campaign because, well, it’s the only one. But what if the poll missed the mark? There’s reason to think that it significantly underestimates support for Democrats. We won’t know for sure until the votes are counted, but here’s the case for That Poll Was Hot Garbage.

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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 superdelegate schmozz

Having proven its electoral mettle in the New Hampshire primary, the Bernie Sanders campaign is apparently now just realizing that the Democratic Party’s nominating process is not entirely, well, democratic. 

Of the nearly 4,500 delegates who will cast a vote at next July’s Democratic National Convention, an estimated 713 of them are so-called “superdelegates” — party muckety-mucks who can vote however they please.

And surprise, surprise: a lot of the muckety-mucks are backing Hillary Clinton. Resulting in this seeming contradiction:

Bernie Sanders lost by a hair in Iowa and won by a landslide in New Hampshire. Yet Hillary Clinton has amassed an enormous 350-delegate advantage over the Vermont senator after just two states.

That’s because more than half of the unelected superdelegates have endorsed Clinton — although they are under no legal obligation to vote for her at the convention.

All of which prompts outrage in the Sanders camp. Outrage you might expect me to share.

Well, sorry, but I don’t.

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