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Finally, the End Is Near! 

Inside Track

Take heart! The end of the longest stretch of irritating, insulting, nonstop political TV ads Vermont has ever seen is upon us! For that we all owe our "thanks" to Republican Rich Tarrant, the $300 million man.

In fact, Richie Rich, the ex-medical software CEO, held the firm belief that money can buy absolutely anything, even the hearts and minds of a majority of Vermonters. He is currently on course to set the all-time U.S. record for money spent per vote received.

Congratulations, Mr. Tarrogant!

Never before in America has a candidate come close to spending so much money to get so little support from voters. But $7 million apparently was enough to buy an absolutely absurd editorial endorsement Tuesday from Vermont's largest daily newspaper, the Gannett chain's Burlington Free Press. This one comes on the heels of two earlier editorials backing Democrats Peter Welch and Matt Dunne, editorials that had some wondering if the conservative editorial page was getting some "new" religion?

A Freeps reader sent us an email before dawn on Tuesday titled "R U Shitting Me?" The individual, a distinguished government employee who once worked for a successful Republican statewide office holder, was positively stunned by the Freeps choice of Richie Tarrogant over a Vermont political legend. Someone known to all, with a well-established record of being a champion of truth, justice and the real American Way: Bernie Sanders.

In fact, yours truly just got off the phone with Julian Borger, the U.S. Bureau Chief for Great Britain's The Guardian. Vermont has just become a new prime location on Julian's radar screen. He realizes Bernie Sanders is about to enter his inside-the-American-beltway realm. More Brits to follow.

And Bureau Chief Borger is of a mind that his British readers, who enjoy a proud socialist tradition, are really going to be able to appreciate the outspoken, articulate Independent Vermont socialist in ways that Americans have been unable to. After all, Mr. Borger's readers already enjoy the single-payer health-care system that prohibits the out-of-control profiteering by private insurance companies that we Americans continue to endure.

By 9 a.m. we'd received a dozen emails from stunned Burlington Free Press readers. Half of them told us that they've already called the paper to cancel their subscriptions.

Let's not forget, this is the newspaper that editorially railed against Burlington's badly needed downtown transit center so much that it succeeded in killing it.

This is the newspaper that stands four-square against commercial wind-power development in Vermont.

And who can forget, this is the newspaper that ignored Vermont's historic civil-unions debate when it was on the legislative front burner back in 2000 and in the eye of a national storm.

But lately there have been some surprises. In the past week, Vermont's largest daily newspaper surprised many when it endorsed Democrat Peter Welch for Congress over Republican Martha Rainville. And it raised eyebrows even higher by endorsing Democrat Matt Dunne over incumbent Republican Brian Dubie.

Then, just when the Freeps was making many a reader wonder if it was turning a corner, "Rich Tarrant Deserves a Chance at U.S. Senate" hit the street. Here's one reader email that reflects the pack:

What are they smoking? I can't decide if it's April Fools or Halloween horror!

Needless to say, Rich Tarrant is not going to come close to winning Vermont's U.S. Senate race despite pouring all that money into shameless personal image-building and propaganda TV advertising.

Tarrant's impending wipe-out really is a testament to the scrutiny Vermonters give their political candidates. There is a measuring-up test, a credibility test, a test the richest man in Vermont has miserably failed.

********

Ho-Ho in Town - The chairman of the Democratic National Committee was in Burlington, of all places, on Tuesday to endorse Matt Dunne for Lite-Gov. A bit nostalgic, eh? After all, it's his old job. And he knows well what occupying it can lead to for someone with a passion for politics.

"Matt is very much in step with where Vermont is," said former Gov. Howard Dean. "Matt does not believe that the government ought to tell you whether you can have an abortion or not. Brian Dubie's on the other side of that issue," noted Ho-Ho.

"Brian supports the Iraq war. Matt does not support the Iraq war," he added.

"There are fundamental differences between these two candidates," said Dean, "and I think when you choose a lieutenant governor you should not just think you're choosing a down-ballot office."

He ought to know, eh?

"You should also think that you may be choosing the next governor of the state of Vermont, and my vote is with Matt Dunne," said Dean, a gentleman who should be looking pretty good this time next week with the Democrats back in congressional play.

No question, Young Matt's been picking up steam, but is it a miracle in the making? Holding Doobie-Doo below 50 percent (he was only at 46 percent in the latest public poll), and thus forcing the race into the legislature in icy January has some wondering: Might Dunne slip in the back door?

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the popular votes cast, there would be a vote taken by secret legislative ballot. And with Democrats in command of both House and Senate, they could easily insert Mr. Dunne full-time into the corner office - the one he claims Mr. Dubie spends such little time in.

However, Candidate Dunne sounded like he closed the door on that possibility Tuesday. He was asked if he would abide by the outcome of the November 7 popular vote. If it goes to the legislature, asked Ch. 3's Andy Potter, "Will you support the top vote-getter?"

"I will," answered Dunne. "I made that clear four years ago. I will say that we need to change the way that we do elect the lieutenant governor and governor, because I think a majority standard is more appropriate. But I stick to my commitment."

But if he were close, would Dunne really "order" his fellow Democrats to write the name of Republican Brian Dubie on their secret ballots?

"I want to be clear," said Young Matt. "I have every intention of getting more than 50 percent of the vote."

Lack of name recognition once looked like a death knell for Dunne, but his campaign has turned into a whirlwind the last couple weeks. He also picked up Jeezum Jim Jeffords' endorsement. That's something Scudder Parker, Democrat candidate for governor, can't say. If there's an upset brewing, this looks like the race.

********

Douglas Smells Victory - Vermont's Republican Governor Jim Douglas was feeling the winner's circle Monday when he hit the gaggle of press inside the front door of Montpeculiar's Capital Plaza. In other states Republican governors are in trouble. Not here. Go figure.

His challenger had just held a fiery, bottom-of-the ninth-inning-type presser at the Statehouse. Parker made the claim he's actually picking up steam, and closing in even more on the frontrunner since Friday. That's when the WCAX-TV poll put him 10 points behind.

Well, what else could he say? At least he held a press conference. Surprisingly, pressers haven't played a role in his uphill campaign.

Still the 800-pound-gorilla question remains: They're all on the same team - the Progressive/ Democratic/ Independent Vermont Left! How come Parker's political comrades, Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch, are comfortably out in front of their Republican opponents, while he's trailing his?

In a moment of surprising frankness, Parker replied, "Everyone has known, and I have known from the beginning, that this was a difficult race. We were running against a two-term incumbent, who is, let's face it, a pretty good politician."

A compliment! And a well-deserved one. Jim Douglas is a damn good politician. Been at this since he won his first race for the Vermont House in 1972. A Republican trained in that old, open-minded independent Vermont style. The one that is so hard to find these days. Jimbo's been a Montpeculiar fixture for decades. Why, he even voted to legalize the possession of marijuana way back when! (It died in the state senate.)

And Gov. Douglas was clearly on a roll Monday. Like Scudder, he wasn't buying the WCAX poll. The Republican thinks he's more than just 10 points ahead.

Gov. Scissorhands was smiling as he told the press pack, "The poll is not accurate. In fact, if it worked four years ago, I wouldn't be standing here today."

"I really believe things are going quite well," said Blue State Vermont's Republican governor. "I'm optimistic and feel very, very confident."

********

How Marvelous? - Well, we certainly have seen a lot of Martha Rainville over the last few months. Until this year, she always wore the fatigues of Vermont's National Guard adjutant general. But in the last 10 months she's worn more hats than we can count.

She is a Republican, right?

Thought so. It's just that her TV ads in the last few weeks, and her switcheroos on policy positions, have left many heads spinning.

A few months ago, Candidate Rainville felt it inappropriate to even question President George W. Bush's Iraq war policy. Didn't feel it was her role as a congressional candidate.

Now she's calling it a "debacle" and wants the troops home as soon as possible.

And her latest strategic campaign maneuver is to make the pitch to Vermont voters that, even if they are worried about the radical right-wing Republicans holding onto majority control of the House, they can still vote for her without the slightest worry.

Why?

Because Marvelous Martha now concedes the Democrats are going to win big in the congressional races and take back the House majority. All the polls show that. Just one little seat in Vermont won't matter.

Marvelous spin, eh?

One Republican who simply doesn't buy the Rainville spin is veteran State Sen. Vince Illuzzi of Essex/Orleans. Yours truly got word Ol' Vince had "trashed" Marvelous Martha at a recent Peter Welch rally up in his hometown of Newport.

Sen. Illuzzi confirmed it via email. He noted he has worked with Rainville in her National Guard capacity, and with Welch in the 30-member state senate.

"I'm supporting Welch," wrote Vince (also the Essex County state's attorney), "because he will put the interests of Vermonters ahead of self-advancement and political party, two of my concerns about Rainville. And I still question whether Rainville is a Republican by design or default."

Ouch.

********

Blog Land - This is the last print edition of "Inside Track" before the votes are counted next Tuesday night. But we entered the blogosphere in August with "Freyne Land," and our world hasn't been the same since. It's 2006, folks, and a whole lot of people are online. And a lot of them have been stopping by the new "Freyne Land" blog to catch the daily update and add a comment. Do drop in: http://7d.blogs.com.

In fact, "Freyne Land" was the perfect place for the locals to unload on the Burlington Free Press Tuesday morning for its shocking, unbelievable editorial endorsement of Richie Rich over Ol' Bernardo in the U.S. Senate race. Check it out.

Happy to be of service.

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Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

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