Progressives Dave Zuckerman and Chris Pearson appear to be facing a tough challenge in holding onto their seats in a Vermont House district that includes the University of Vermont campus.
Should one or both of the Progs lose today, the fallout could negatively affect efforts to build a Democrat-Progressive coalition in Burlington and beyond. Zuckerman warned that a defeat for himself or Pearson wouldmean "it will be time for Progressives to seriously reflect on how Democrats have behaved in this race and how cooperative we should be in the future."
Zuckerman noted that the Progs have not run candidates against Democratic legislators whom they generally view as political allies. That cooperative approach could come to an end if the Dems manage to oustZuckerman and/or Pearson.
Their main opponent is Democrat Kesha Ram, a 22-year-old former president of UVM's student government. Her running mate in the 2-member district, Phillip Ortego, has admitted he has no interest in the race other than to lure student voters away from the Progs.
Although he has served six terms in Montpelier and chairs the House Agriculture Committee, Zuckerman didn't sound confident about his chances for re-election. "I'm not sure what's going to happen in this race," the 37-year-old Progressive said as he stood alongside one of his campaign posters outside Mater Christi.
Large numbers of UVM students have been turning out today, said local election official Melinda Lee. Most come from the ranks of the 3500 voters who have recently registered in the district and who account for about half of all those eligible to cast ballots in this House race.
Based on conversations with the candidates and some of the voters, it appears that the students are voting heavily for Ram. Many probably associate her with fellow Democrat Barack Obama, whom a large majority of UVMers are clearly supporting. The Ram-Obama link was dramatized by a large photo of the two smiling side-by-side that the Democrat and her supporters had put in place outside the Mater Christi School polling place.
"It's primarily Obama who is moblizing the students, and she (Ram) is wisely using that to her advantage," Zuckerman said.
Pearson, who is seeking a second full term in the House, doesn't enjoy the same local degree of recognition as Zuckerman, and he could be particularly vulnerable to the Ram charge. While saying "I'm very proud of my work in the legislature," Pearson also sounded defensive in his response to Ram's contention that the two Progs have not done enough to win more funding for higher education. "I don't sit on the Appropriations Committee," Pearson, 35, said outside Mater Christi this afternoon. "My ability to influence line items in the state budget is somewhat limited."
Ram meanwhile presents herself as a new voice in contrast to the two Progressives who, she implies, have grown stale in power. Noting that 60 percent of the district's eligible voters are under 25 years of age, Ram said "young people need a voice on all sorts of issues, and we're thinking for ourselves."
Kofi Mensah, a 19-year-old UVM student, said he was voting for Ram because "she has a lot of good reforms that will help students and she's more progressive than David Zuckerman."
Another UVMer, 21-year-old Jake Weissman, said he had voted for Ram and Zuckerman. "I want to see the two of them work together to make changes," Weissman explained.
Rosie Critchfield, who is not of student age, said she had voted for Ram and fellow Democrat Ortego "because we need change."