Column | Election Preaction | Fair Game | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Election Preaction 

Sanders wins reelection. Also, why he's invincible.

Bernie Sanders

Published November 7, 2012 at 2:47 p.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

For a few top Vermont Democrats, Tuesday was an early night.

Within seven minutes of the polls closing, the Associated Press had called it for a trio of Democratic (and D-aligned) pols: Sen. Bernie Sanders (7:04 p.m.), Gov. Peter Shumlin (7:06 p.m.) and U.S. Congressman Peter Welch (7:07 p.m.).

But as Seven Days’ unfortunately timed weekly deadline came and went Tuesday night, the results of the really interesting races — state treasurer and auditor — were far from certain.

Before the dust settled, though, we’d already learned a thing or two — or 13 — from this election:

No. 1: Super-PACs can — and will — play at every level. That super-PACs came to Vermont this year was not terribly surprising. That they sought to influence everything from statewide campaigns to legislative races to a Burlington ballot initiative was.

What does that mean? From here on out, no race for governor, mayor or high bailiff is safe from super-PAC money. Vermont’s fundraising and spending limits are now purely optional.

No. 2: Beware the threat within. Nervous Democrats spent much of the last year fretting that Karl Rove, the Koch brothers or some other GOP bogeymen would flood Vermont with super-PAC cash. In fact, the only two out-of-state super-PACs to cross the border were Democratic outfits: one backed by the Democratic Attorneys General Association; the other by the Service Employees International Union.

The real super-PAC threat to Vermont Dems? A little old lady from Burlington named Lenore Broughton, who spent at least $682,500 of her very-much-in-state cash on a slew of Republican candidates.

No. 3: The Democratic machine means business. When it finally realized the threat Democratic State Treasurer Beth Pearce faced from super-PAC-backed Republican Wendy Wilton, the Democratic political establishment scrambled the jets.

Democratic donors ponied up. The party channeled resources — staff and money — toward Pearce’s campaign. Its attack dogs lit into Wilton and its luminaries campaigned alongside Pearce.

If the political novice pulls this one out — as now seems likely — it won’t be thanks to her retail politicking skills or her ability to run an effective campaign. It’ll be because the Democratic machine climbed aboard and righted a sinking ship.

No. 4: The Democratic machine is a fickle beast. Imagine if the Dems did for their lieutenant governor and state auditor candidates — Cassandra Gekas and Doug Hoffer — what they did for Pearce.

They didn’t. If either wins, it’ll be no thanks to the Democratic Party, which barely went to bat for them. No doubt that’s because Shumlin is BFFs with their respective Republican opponents: Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans).

Here’s the lesson: If Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson or Shumlin campaign manager Alex MacLean tries to get you to run against Scott in two years, just say no.

No. 5: Scott and Illuzzi know how to run as Republicans in Vermont. Win or lose, Scott and Illuzzi, demonstrated precisely how members of their party must campaign in a liberal state.

They stayed positive, avoided divisive issues, distanced themselves from their national party and came across — fairly or not — as the centrist, nonpartisan candidates in their respective races.

Take notice, fellow Rs.

No. 6: Shumlin is one seriously cocky dude. By our count, the governor held just one campaign press conference, ran two TV ads for only three weeks and spent a fraction of the million dollars he raised.

Bro never broke a sweat.

With victory in hand, Shummy’s surely feeling good about that decision. But he should keep in mind that in a couple years he’ll have a much longer record for Republicans to run against. And with Scott’s stock rising, he might want to reconsider who he counts as BFFs.

No. 7: Don’t bother running as a write-in. Danby activist Annette Smith could’ve given Shumlin a real headache had she succeeded in securing the Progressive gubernatorial nomination — and a podium at the debates. But without a major party behind her — or even a line on the ballot — Smith was mostly ignored in the general election.

Now, watch industrial-wind backers cite Smith’s poor showing as evidence that the anti-wind movement is overrated. In fact, it’s evidence that write-in campaigns are hopeless.

No. 8: You can’t win if you don’t play. Republicans never had a chance to take down Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos because they didn’t field a candidate. They never had a chance at making serious gains in the legislature because they didn’t play in enough districts.

Here’s a message for Republican Party elders: Candidate recruitment is more than half the battle.

No. 9: The Vermont GOP needs Team Douglas. If they want to stage a comeback, Vermont Republicans have to join the 21st century. A broke, volunteer-party apparatus cannot defeat a well-funded, professional organization — particularly in this liberal state.

The Vermont GOP needs paid staff, dedicated legislative organizers and a real focus on fundraising. Most importantly, it needs former governor Jim Douglas’ coterie of smart, savvy, centrist aides to get back on board and save the party from irrelevance.

No. 10: If Wilton loses, it’s her own fault. Running in a Democratic year in a Democratic state, the virtually unknown Rutland Republican had a tough row to hoe from the get-go. But everything changed when the Vermonters First super-PAC decided to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into her race against Pearce, the equally unknown incumbent.

Wilton won the super-PAC lottery.

With that advantage, she should have kept her head down and focused on her message of being Rutland City’s turnaround treasurer. But by getting nasty and floating ridiculous conspiracy theories, she turned off a lot of independents.

No. 11: It’s worth being nice to Progs. It’s highly unlikely that Don Schramm or Ed Stanak — the Progressive candidates for treasurer and attorney general, respectively — will cost their Democratic opponents the election. But they sure made things tougher for Pearce — and even for Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

Had they engaged Stanak and Schramm earlier, the two Dems could’ve headed off the Prog challenges.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell (D-Windsor) made a similar mistake in alienating Progressive/Democratic state senate candidate David Zuckerman, who’s likely to win a seat. Had he played nicer, Campbell might have one more friend in the Senate.

No. 12: In a presidential election year, nobody cares about local ballot initiatives — and that could help Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. When he pushed for a November vote on three cherished ballot items, Weinberger pictured a campaign as rousing as his own mayoral bid. In fact, pretty much nobody in Burlington paid attention until the Vermonters First super-PAC staged a last-minute effort to defeat one of them.

If Weinberger’s initiatives clear the high, two-thirds threshold for passage, it’ll be because a lot of people turned out to the polls, shrugged and said, “Whatever, bro.” If they fail, you can expect to see hizzoner blame it on Vermonters First — not on bad timing or a lukewarm sales pitch.

No. 13: Bernie is invincible. Who would’ve guessed the 1972 Liberty Union candidate for U.S Senate, who won just 2 percent of the vote, would barely face a reelection challenge to hold on to that seat 40 years later?

Sanders scared off any serious competition and raised nearly $6.2 million this cycle from an impressive, nationwide network of small-dollar donors. With his next reelection campaign six years away, look for Bernie to focus on building his national brand as the voice of the left.

Next Up

With one election behind him, Gov. Peter Shumlin has another to go — for the chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association.

Early next month, Shumlin will attend the DGA’s annual meeting in Los Angeles. There, the nation’s Democratic governors will elect their next leader, who serves as chief spokesman, fundraiser and candidate recruiter.

With no declared opponents, Shummy’s expected to, um, win.

That means the second-term Vermont governor will be going toe-to-toe with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who’s been tapped to run the Republican Governor’s Association in 2013. In 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is set to take over the RGA, assuming he’s reelected in 2013.

With just two gubernatorial races on the ballot in 2013 — in New Jersey and Virginia — one of Shumlin’s primary responsibilities will be to ensure Christie’s defeat. The Obama-lovin’ Garden State gov could be in for a tough fight against Newark’s star-turned mayor, Corey Booker.

In Virginia, where Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell will be term-limited out of office, another hot race is heating up: Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a darling of the social-conservative movement, is expected to face off against former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe — or possibly U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

If Shumlin runs for and wins a second one-year term at the DGA, things will pick up in 2014, when 36 governors’ mansions are up for grabs. Of course, Shummy will be up for reelection himself that year — and if the going’s tougher than it was this time, he might need to focus on the home front.

Media Notes

In September, the Stowe Reporter and Waterbury Record lost publisher Maria Archangelo to a new community magazine division of Yellowbook. Later this month, the two papers will lose managing editor Tom Kearney to the same company.

Kearney and Archangelo happen to be husband and wife.

“What a bummer,” says Biddle Duke, who owns the two papers. “Tom and Maria represent a level of professionalism and experience that is very unique and very special for us. Their loss, because they have a lot of depth, is a bummer.”

Before joining the Reporter in 2005, Kearney spent 36 years at New Hampshire’s Keene Sentinel — the last 20 as executive editor. In March, he was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.

At Yellowbook, he’ll set reporting, editing and writing standards at more than 100 community magazines in the U.S., the U.K., Spain and Latin America. The company recently launched one in South Burlington.

“It’s a chance to be part of a big publishing initiative that basically preaches the gospel of community news,” he says. “It’s going to be opening community-news magazines in lots of places that don’t have any real community-news coverage — that have been abandoned by bigger newspapers or never had any.”

Guess he's never heard of The Other Paper.

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About The Author

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz was part of the Seven Days news team from 2012 to 2020. He served as political editor and wrote the "Fair Game" political column before becoming a staff writer.


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