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August 23, 2010

Vermont's Primary: Are We There Yet?

500-candidates Like a kid trapped too long in a car during a summer vacation trip, Vermont voters (or at least this political reporter) are asking: Are we there yet?

The longest and most expensive gubernatorial primary in Vermont history will come to an end tomorrow, and everyone wants to know who among the five Democrats will earn the honor of facing Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie in the fall election. (To read up on all five, check out Seven Days' Andy Bromage's excellent profiles)

Face it, the primary is a crap shoot to call, which makes it more exciting than perhaps the race itself; a race in which five Democrats largely agreed with each other on most major policy issues and made no embarrassing stumbles.

I can envision several scenarios playing out tomorrow depending on voter turnout, the weather and the effects of the full moon. In fact, I can see scenarios in which at least three of the five candidates have a shot at winning.

To find out who wins, keep an eye on Blurt tomorrow as myself, Andy Bromage and Ken Picard will be blogging (and Twittering) straight through until we know all the winners. We'll start tomorrow morning and continue throughout the day. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, predictions or observations as the day unfolds.

As for predictions, I was on Vermont This Week Friday night with Anne Galloway of and Geoffrey Norman of Vermont Tiger, and when pressed by host Mark Johnson I offered this possible scenario based on a turnout of about 40,000 to 45,000:

Deb Markowitz - 28%

Doug Racine: 26%

Peter Shumlin: 24%

Matt Dunne: 17%

Susan Bartlett: 5%

That said, if turnout is high - say more than 50,000 - I could see a different outcome:

Shumlin: 27%

Racine: 25%

Markowitz 23%

Dunne: 20%

Bartlett: 5%

If turnout is very low, say 40,000 or less, I could see this outcome:

Racine: 26%

Markowitz: 24%

Shumlin: 22%

Dunne: 16%

Bartlett: 12%

Seven Days readers offered some of their own scenarios, too, in the comments section of a Blurt post last week on the most recent fundraising reports.

It really is a tough race to call because none of the Democrats have broken out of the pack. Markowitz has held onto the frontrunner status with solid fundraising numbers, small dollar donations and name recognition in the polls, with two polls showing her the most competitive against Dubie in the fall election and a third showing her besting the lite gov. 

A spirited Democratic primary in Washington County could help buoy her support given that she lives she's from Middlesex and works in Montpelier. Then again, the appearance of former Progressive candidate Anthony Pollina in the Washington County Senate Democratic primary could bring Progs to the voting booth. To date, Progs have largely split their support between Racine and Shumlin.

That said, Racine's supporters tend to be the kind of Democrats who vote in primaries: Older, activist, old-school liberals. His Chittenden County base will turn out for him, largely because there are competitive primaries in a couple of House districts — Burlington and Charlotte — and for state senate.

Shumlin has the backing of the fervent single-payer supporters, anti-Vermont Yankee activists and southern Vermont. A three-way primary for two seats in his old Senate district will help ensure that his backers in Windham County turn out. Shumlin has been surging in the polls since leaving the statehouse in June, and was the first candidate up with TV ads. Whether he can turn a surge in the polls to a lead in the polls is an open question. If this race were held later than tomorrow, I'd wager on Shumlin to win.

Dunne has the hardest demographic to turn out to the polls: Business leaders and younger voters. They tend to sit out primaries in greater numbers than general elections. But, Dunne is the wild card. If he pulls enough votes from the other candidates and they fail to energize their base, he could eke out a win.

Bartlett, however, has the toughest job of all five. Moderates tend not to vote in primaries, and they are a hard group to motivate to the polls unless they see a clear line toward victory in November.

Soon enough, this grueling primary will be over and we can turn our attention to a winnowed field of candidates in competitive races for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and auditor, among others. Can't wait!

Here's a rundown of the other races, and some predictions. I'm sure I'll rue making them public, but hey, what else are political columnists good for anyway?

Feel free to chime in with your own.

U.S. Senate (Democrat)

Incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy is being challenged by newcomer Dan Freilich, who made a national splash recently with a parody ad. That won't be enough for this David to topple Goliath in this primary and Leahy easily wins. The question is whether Freilich can get into double digits. Not to fret, Freilich will be back in the fall election as an independent, where he'll join several other candidates including Republican Len Britton.

U.S. House (Republican)

This spirited three-way race between radio host Paul Beaudry, former businessman John Mitchell and business owner Keith Stern. While Mitchell is well-known in GOP business circles, I see Beaudry as the person likely to win this race due to name recognition thanks to his radio show and his Tea Party leanings.

Lt. Governor (Republican)

Sen. Phil Scott versus businessman Mark Snelling, the son of former Gov. Richard Snelling and Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling. Despite the fact that most Republican primary voters tend to be older and wealthier, and therefore likely to know the Snelling surname, I give Scott the edge in this race thanks to strong support from the Northeat Kingdom, Washington County and heavy turnout expected in Rutland County where the GOP has a spirited four-way race for three seats in the Rutland County Senate.

Lt. Governor (Democrat)

Rep. Christoper Bray versus Rep. Steve Howard, a former state party official and unsuccessful candidate for secretary of state in the late 1990s. He lost to none other than Deb Markowitz. Bray has run a strong campaign — his first statewide effort — and has received the backing of five newspaper editorial boards. Howard, on the other hand, has received the backing of more traditional Democratic groups — labor unions. In this race, given his name recognition in the party and the endorsements I give the edge to Howard.

Secretary of State (Republican)

Attorney and former Williston Selectboard member Chris Roy versus former Commissioner Forest of Parks and Recreation, and gubernatorial spokesman, Jason Gibbs. Roy entered the race in mid-2009, while Gibbs entered at the close of the legislative session. Of all the races, this is one of the toughest. At this stage, the momentum appears to be on Gibbs' side as he gobbles up legislative endorsements. He's also received the endorsement of Gov. Jim Douglas. This could be the first test of Douglas' political coattails. At this stage, I give the edge to Gibbs.

Secretary of State (Democrat)

Former state Sen. Jim Condos versus attorney Charles Merriman. Condos has served on the South Burlington City Council and in the state Senate and has been a longtime fixture in the party, while Merriman is relatively new to party politics. Given his labor endorsements and name recognition in the party, I give the edge in this race to Condos.

Auditor of Accounts (Democrat)

Former State Auditor and State Sen. Ed Flanagan versus political newcomer Doug Hoffer. Up until this past weekend, I thought this race would see Flanagan eke out a win over Hoffer, even despite some of the questions raised about his judgment and ability to serve. Then on Sunday, Hoffer announced he had the backing of all five Democrats for governor, a group that includes three of Flanagan's senatorial colleagues. I give the edge in this race now to Hoffer. The winner will face incumbent Republican Tom Salmon. Salmon faces his first election this fall as a Republican. He was elected to the post twice as a Democrat.

While there is strong support for Deb Markowitz, Peter Shumlin and Matt Dunne among some Democratic primary voters, the weakness for these three is they are each drawing from the same types of voters, whereas Doug Racine -- and while there may also be some overlap there as well -- is also drawing from different types of voters who are less likely to vote for Markowitz, Shumlin and Dunne.

In addition, with a lot of people when they say who is among their top two or three candidates, Racine oftentimes is one of them and the same can not always be said for the other candidates as well, so he enjoys both broader and deeper favorables; plus Shumlin has high negative ratings when it comes to unfavorables, etc.

When eating lunch the other day and without my bringing up the subject at all, someone started talking about how they were still undecided about whom to vote for in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, yet seemed to be leaning toward voting for Doug Racine; when we spoke further, they made clear they did not think much of the other four candidates, yet also felt they needed to do more homework before voting. Yesterday this same individual made it clear they will indeed be voting for him.

Another person also recently mentioned to me out of the blue how they had been undecided on who to vote for in the race for Governor and had culled it down to being between Doug Racine and Peter Shumlin, however seemed to feel they have decided to vote for Racine, but did not sound solid yet.

These are only two small examples, however I am hearing or have read much the same type of things from others here and there across the state.

Likewise (i.e., just as will be the case for Racine of course), depending on who turns out to vote and how many voters end up voting in the Democratic primary, I see Susan Bartlett as a possible wild card who could do much better than most political pundits and members of the press are assuming.

Therefore I would not be surprised to see a very close race with Racine, Markowitz and Bartlett among the top three, with Racine edging out a win.

Most people tend to vote for the candidate, not for how much money or endorsements a candidate has raised or mustered.

However, except to disagree with you and others about Racine only doing good if turnout is very low, I will not bother trying to guess percentages since whatever happens will still of course hinge on voter turnout: i.e., both who comes out and how many. Yet I think it will turn out somewhat differently than how you and others are suggesting.

By the way, in case anyone is interested, read a compiled listing of the responses from each of the five Democratic Gubernatorial primary candidates concerning addressing homelessness as well as affordable housing across the state:

forgot to provide a live link to the Dem Guv candidate response document regarding homelessness and affordable housing. click here.

Shay wrote:

To find out who wins, keep an eye on Blurt tomorrow as myself, Andy Bromage and Ken Picard will be blogging (and Twittering) straight through until we know all the winners. We'll start tomorrow morning and continue throughout the day. ...

When you, Andy and Ken do so, I hope you will do so by using the live blogging tool CoverItLive and, if so, by including your tweet streams within it as well in order to provide one place to seek such coverage throughout the day (even if there are breaks in between; in fact I think CIL allows for one to put the live blog session on hold at least twice during any given live blog).

This could make things a lot easy for some of us rather than trying to follow separate blog posts and try to find when they are updated as well as also trying to follow separate tweet streams either all at once or during the day and later on when polls close and the vote counting begins.

I am still mostly somewhat undecided, though I'm leaning heavily towards Doug Racine. He is being more honest (based on advertising) about what Vermont/Vermonters will need to do in this economy.

Sigh...of course, Dubie will probably win in November. People want empty phrases and feel good phrases like "Bring jobs to Vermont!" or "Reduce taxes!" without saying how they'll do that (most of the Democrats in the primary are saying the same thing, to be honest). I know, though, that I don't want another two years of Douglas, even if it is Brian Dubie.

Windsor and Orange counties will play a big role in this race, as will the splintering of the Chittenden County vote. In addition, the other three southern counties will have an important role to play. It actually may be the case that the battle is won and lost south of Montpelier.

I like that over the past few weeks Shay and most of the press has changed their tune (slightly) to the race Dan Freilich is holding against Pat Leahy. Months ago it was a "not in hell" shot, now its a "will be interesting to see if he puts up double digits", I think tomorrows primary is gonna be a lot more exciting then most people think because there is a real change in the air, and support for an "anti-incumbent, anti-establishment" candidate is at an all time high.

let the games begin!

Man, will we all be glad this is over. I don't know who will win, but I do know I will definitely not be voting for Mr. Schumlin after his behavior at House Representative Sonny Audette's wake last week. Without so much as even a glance behind him or an invitation from the family, he cut straight to the front of the line as if he had somewhere important to be and couldn't wait out the other hundred or so folks, some frail and elderly, who had been waiting in line for a very long time.

Then, instead of rushing off to whatever critical thing we assumed he must have had to do, he hung around for another 45 minutes or so, glad-handing around the room like it was his own personal political fundraiser. Disgusting. The family (of which I am one) was outraged, but out of respect for Sonny, we elected to let it go rather than make a scene.

Mr. Racine, on the other hand, came to the wake not once but twice and was still unable to get through the line to pay his respects, but he waited his turn like everyone else, even politely declining an offer from the family to cut the line.

In a state where folks tend to vote the person rather than the party, you'd think Mr. Schumlin would know to better mind his manners. I want someone who understands and is senstive to the concerns of the common Vermonter, but apparently he thinks he's above all of that.

Liz, now you know what many of us have known for a long time: SHUMLIN IS A PATHOLOGICAL EGOMANIAC WHO DOES NOT GIVE A SH__ ABOUT ANYBODY BUT HIMSELF. You'd better hope to God he does not become "Dear Leader" of this State.

get over yourself Liz. Sonny's wake was just another small town political event. Sonny was a career politician, same as Shumlin and Racine, and all the pols turned out to be seen and glad hand each other and look for votes. Dubie will indeed win in november because the democrats have ran one of the stupidest campaigns this state has ever seen. They've raised more money combined, but have nothing left in the bank. Whoever wins tuesday has a huge uphill climb.

Liz, You complain about Shumlin cutting "straight to the front of the line as if he had somewhere important to be and couldn't wait out the other hundred or so folks, some frail and elderly, who had been waiting in line for a very long time." Then you come out and say that Racine "politely declin(ed) an offer from the family to cut the line."

Sounds pretty hypocritical.

@ VYLIES: You don't see a difference between going to someone's wake, and being invited by the family to go to the front of the line because you've been there twice and haven't made it to the front yet (Racine) vs. showing up and simply marching your way to the front past everyone else (Shumlin)? Sorry, but it's the family's prerogative to choose who might get a special favor, and it's everyone else's goddamn duty to shut up and wait respectfully in line. It's a funeral, for god's sake, and it's their event, not Shumlin's. And, by the way, did you get the part about Racine DECLINING the invitation, and politely continuing to wait his turn in line for the second time? Shumlin could learn a lesson or two in humility from Racine. This little episode exemplifies the difference between Shumlin and everyone else.

Poops and I were at a party last week and this woman comes up out of the blue and opens up a visceral attack on Peter Shumlin saying he was "not very nice to his wife."

"Holy shit!" Who are you, and why the fuck is it your business lady?" I thought politely to myself.

"Shumlilies," and "pathological egomaniac" huh? I think I smell a winner.

I heard a story once about Bernie Sanders playing basketball with some kid and showing no mercy whatsovever. He kept knocking the kid on his ass, the story went.

You see where I'm going here? In politics, being an asshole is not all that bad. The fact that some people seem to have strongly negative personal responses to Shumlin makes me think he could turn out to be a great leader.

Really, Haik? Or did you just have extra words you needed to use today?

Heh heh. Happy Primary.

Geez, I feel like I just walked into the BFP comments section here.

"Poops and I were at a party last week and this woman comes up out of the blue and opens up a visceral attack on Peter Shumlin saying he was "not very nice to his wife."

"Holy shit!" Who are you, and why the fuck is it your business lady?" I thought politely to myself."

Umm, because Shumlin is running for Governor? Maybe she considers how he (allegedly) treats his wife to be a relevant consideration for his fitness to be Vermont Governor? You may think that "in politics, being an asshole is not that bad." Others apparently disagree. I'm one of them. No one's ever accused Racine or Dubie of being an "asshole." Does that mean they can't be great governors?

No one's ever accused Racine or Dubie of being an "asshole."

Ha! You're not giving Dubie and Racine a lot of credit, Ms. Webber! Are you sure they haven't called each other that?

Actually, I'm pretty darn sure they haven't called each other that name. And I'm pretty sure that no one else ever called either of them that name. Because, fact is, neither of them is that. And that's what's wonderful about Vt. politics. Liberal or conservative, they're all basically decent people. Racine is way too big-government and pro-tax for me, but I'll give him credit for being a super nice guy. And same thing goes for Brian Dubie. And I think the same is basically true for Markowitz, Dunne, and Bartlett as well. There's really only one acknowledged "asshole" in the gubernatorial race, in either party, and it's funny that he's the one that you seem to like. Why is that?

Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole. I'm not prepared to take your word about anybody else.

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