The primary election is behind us, though people may not have noticed, since only about 9 percent of voters turned out. There were few real questions to be settled by the primary, so if apathy was the order of the day, there was some justification.
Mark Donka, one of three little-known Republicans seeking the chance to run against Rep. Peter Welch may dispute the notion that there were no important races. He has been chosen as the Republican candidate, but Welch appears so firmly established in his post and so well liked by Vermonters that a Donka candidacy probably does not keep him up worrying at night.
Activists on the left and the right occupied themselves during the campaign by pushing write-in candidates. Dan Feliciano, the Libertarian candidate for governor, was hoping to win enough votes on the Republican ballot to be the Republicans’ candidate. He fell short. Dean Corren, the Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor, was seeking enough write-in votes to become the Democratic candidate. He succeeded, though the Democratic Party has yet to determine the extent of its support for the Progressive who has invaded their ranks.
The long-term strategy for the Republican Party, as articulated by Scott and by party Chairman David Sunderland, is to focus on building the party from the ground up, helping elect Republican legislators who will be the leaders of the future. Toward that end, they have said they want to eschew the divisive ideological politics that characterizes the national party. Scott’s moderate form of Republicanism, a vestige of the days when moderate Republicans dominated Vermont politics, has won him backing even from moderate Democrats. If Scott is able to maintain support from the vast middle of the political spectrum, Corren will have his work cut out for him. Corren is likely to focus on progressive issues, such as single-payer health care, and will test Scott’s willingness to back initiatives that many Vermonters support but about which Republicans are less than enthusiastic.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, meanwhile, will be running against the Republicans’ choice, businessman Scott Milne of Pomfret. Interesting recent poll results show that Milne, virtually unknown until recent months, has begun to close the gap with Shumlin. A previous poll had shown Milne with support from only 27 percent of voters. A more recent poll showed his support at 36 percent, compared to 48 percent for Shumlin. Milne immediately trumpeted these results as an indication that Vermonters were looking for “fresh ideas.” In fact, Republican candidates can generally count on a hard core of support in the range of 36 percent; the trick is to build on that base of Republicans.
Support for Shumlin is edging downward, as it tends to do for incumbents over time. Time generally takes a toll on political leaders; just ask President Barack Obama. In Shumlin’s case, the sketchy land deal he negotiated with a less well off neighbor last summer became a controversy that has lingered in the minds of some voters. Continuing troubles with Vermont Health Connect, the state’s health care website, raise question about leadership within the administration. The newest contractor brought in to fix the website has said the blame for problems rests with both the previous contractor, CGI, and management by the administration.
Milne’s ability to amass a vote total threatening to Shumlin may be hindered by the presence in the race of Feliciano, the Libertarian who showed in the primary he was ready to mount an aggressive race. Pressure from the right is not going to help Milne, especially if Feliciano is able to siphon away more than a few percentage points of the total.
It will be interesting to watch Scott’s performance in hewing to a moderate course when pressed from the left because it may show the Republicans the pathway forward when the day arrives that Shumlin decides to move on. If re-elected, Shumlin will be serving his third term. Howard Dean was elected to five terms, but that was unusual. As governors enter their third and fourth terms, the opposition tends to become restive. Shumlin’s future is likely to rest on the success of single-payer health care, an issue that is likely to dominate Montpelier for the next two years or more.
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