Phil Scott, Randy Brock and supporters on Saturday on North Avenue in Burlington
Saturday afternoon, as hundreds of families streamed in and out of Burlington High School for two championship soccer games, Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock were there to greet them.
The two pols, volunteers and staff — plus Scott's longtime friend, Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) — waved to each passing car, encouraged by every wave or thumbs-up that was returned.
In the final days before this hard-fought election, the candidates said they had no idea whether the honk-and-wave wins over voters. But across North Avenue, Democratic attorney general candidate T.J. Donovan was spending his time the same way. The soccer games brought lots of potential voters from Burlington, Colchester, Essex and Manchester.
Bothering parents with face-to-face campaigning on the soccer sidelines was a bad idea, said Donovan, a BHS grad, but greeting them as they drove in and out was a safe alternative.
On his side of the street, Scott, who's never lost an election in five state Senate campaigns and three for lieutenant governor, said, "I don't know what works and what doesn't. People want to see you out, reminding them who you are."
While no public polling has been released in Vermont for two weeks, a pair of polls conducted in October indicated that Scott was in a close race with Democrat Sue Minter to replace retiring Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.
"I'd love to see some scientific analysis about what works and what doesn't," said Brock, a former state auditor who was trailing Progressive/Democrat David Zuckerman in the October polls in his bid to replace Scott as lieutenant governor.
TERRI HALLENBECK/Seven Days
Brock and Scott spent most of the weekend traveling together — mixing honk-and-waves with stops at bagel shops, festivals and diners. Their focus was largely on Chittenden County. The state's most populous county offers the biggest pool of potential voters.
When Scott, Brock and Mazza pulled up at Shelburne Vineyard on Saturday, the local winery was buzzing with a mostly young-adult crowd, sipping wine and sampling snacks at the annual Food and Wine Festival. Co-owner Gail Albert said she hadn't known the candidates were coming but was happy to have them mingle with festival-goers.
The candidates quickly realized that interrupting people while they were tasting wine to talk politics was just as dicey as grabbing parents' attention at their kids' soccer game.
"There is a balancing act of not, in fact, intruding on people," said Brock, who's run two state Senate campaigns and is in his fourth statewide election. "If you want to lose votes, that's a great way to do it."
But just showing up can be fruitful. As Scott walked by one cluster of wine-tasters, a man told his friend, "He's running for governor."
"That guy?" the friend responded.
A few feet away, Scott stopped to chat with three Vermont voters. One, who described herself as a Democrat, said she supports Scott because she considers him responsive. She declined to give her name because she said her job required her to be publicly neutral.
As the roving Scott-Brock campaign team moved on, the differences between the Republican's infrastructure and the Democrats' was apparent. Minter and Zuckerman were spending most of their weekend touring the state with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) at events their campaigns and their party had coordinated and publicized.
Scott and Brock were working more on the fly, with no advance team to lay the groundwork. They were planning a daylong statewide tour Monday, coordinated with local legislative candidates.
Vermont Republican Party executive director Jeff Bartley discounted the Democrats' extended tour. It will turn out known supporters, he said, but, "I don't think it's going to help them get any swing voters."
With time between the winery and a planned late-afternoon visit to the American Legion in Waterbury, the Scott-Brock crew opted Saturday for another honk-and-wave on busy U.S. Route 7 in downtown Shelburne.
The steady stream of traffic offered plenty of honks and thumbs-up, though one driver distinctly extended his middle finger. The downside of the honk-and-wave is that it doesn't allow for much personal interaction between candidates and voters.
One driver yelled something about "carbon tax," while passing, though it was unclear if the person said, "Go, carbon tax!" or "No carbon tax." But the comment suggested Vermonters are paying attention. Scott has frequently stated his opposition to the tax.
Occasionally, people do pull over to talk with the candidates. Two 17-year-old Lake Champlain Waldorf School students approached Scott, curious to meet the candidate, though they're not old enough to vote. Grace Patton of Jericho told Scott she'd heard he was a "very chill Republican."
Scott, who's campaigned as a moderate who pledges to work across the political aisle, liked the description. Mazza, the Democrat, interjected that the days of voting party line are over.
TERRI HALLENBECK/Seven Days
Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott greets passersby in Shelburne with campaign coordinator Brittney Wilson, Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) and campaign adviser Jason Gibbs.
Mazza's support is one of Scott's few counterweights to the flood of well-known Democrats campaigning for Minter. The owner of a Colchester general store that bears his name, Mazza is a Democrat who has served 37 years in the legislature.
"I'll do whatever I can do to help Phil," Mazza said. "He's exactly what this state needs."
Mazza is well-known in Vermont politics, but he doesn't carry the same star power as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Leahy and the comedian-turned politician, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who campaigned with Minter last week.
Scott joked that though he doesn't have Al Franken, he has Al's French Frys, the South Burlington eatery where he made a campaign stop last week. The point, he said, is his support is local and grassroots.
Outgunned as the Republicans are by big-name politicians, Bartley claimed his party has a strong get-out-the-vote ground game that is more targeted than the Democrats'.
"We're more efficient," he said, noting that though he is a committed Republican voter, he has received fliers at home from the Democratic Party, which amounts to wasted money and effort.
While Scott and Brock were waving to passing cars Saturday, members of the party and their campaigns were reaching out to voters elsewhere.
"They're calling thousands of people a day," Scott said of his campaign. His campaign staff said they'd also had teams knocking on doors in key parts of the state before shifting their focus to phones in the final days.
The Republican Party made 27,000 phone calls Saturday, reminding supporters to vote and reaching out to undecided voters, Bartley said. "We're light years ahead of where we were in previous elections," he said.
In those phone calls, the party is targeting its message to the candidates thought to have the best chances — Scott, Brock and selected legislative candidates — Bartley said.
"Those are the ones that are driving turnout," he said.
That means the party is specifically not talking up U.S. Senate candidate Scott Milne, who is challenging Leahy, or attorney general candidate Deb Bucknam or auditor candidate Dan Feliciano.
Milne said Sunday as he traveled from a honk-and-wave in Richmond to another in St. Albans that he was OK with that.
"I think a rising tide lifts all boats," he said.
The Republican Senate candidate explained why he didn't join Scott and Brock on the campaign trail for the final weekend. "Why put all your assets in one place?" he asked. But on Monday, he said, he will take part in the party's statewide tour.