Six weeks out from the November election, all five Republicans running for state office in Vermont are making their case on the airwaves. But so far, not a single Democrat has invested in TV ads.
That alone speaks volumes about the strengths — and the weaknesses — of the Democratic ticket: For Gov. Peter Shumlin, who’s sitting on a sizable lead and an even more sizable war chest, it’s because he doesn’t have to spend the money. But for State Treasurer Beth Pearce, the appointed Dem who’s never run for office, it’s because she can’t afford it.
In the past week, three Republican candidates have bought their own ads — while the other two are reaping the rewards of super-PAC largesse.
Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), who is challenging Shumlin for governor, has spent roughly $70,000 to run three spots for 10 days. One of them features grainy footage of the gov singing the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” as some tough lines about “Peter Shumlin’s Vermont” fly by on-screen: 45th in business friendliness, fourth worst state in which to retire, highest tax rate in the country.
“It’ [sic] alright?” Brock’s ad asks. “Who’s he fooling?”
Republican attorney-general candidate Jack McMullen, meanwhile, is sticking to a biographical ad for now, stressing his working-class roots, military experience and Harvard pedigree — he mentions the school twice. McMullen says this $30,000, two-and-a-half-week ad buy will be followed by four more spots, one of which will make light of his famous “teats on a cow” gaffe, facilitated by onetime opponent Fred Tuttle.
Of consequence to McMullen’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Attorney General Bill Sorrell, the millionaire businessman says he’s planning to throw more of his own dough into the race — as he did during his unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate in 1998 and 2004. So far he’s given his campaign just $10,000.
“I’m prepared to put money in,” he says. “What I want to convey is: I’m in this seriously.”
A less serious ad buy is coming from Lt. Gov. Phil Scott — the only incumbent statewide Republican running for reelection. Scott has thus far booked just $27,000 in TV time over the course of six weeks and is running two biographical ads with the production values of a community television promo.
The big bucks in this race continue to come from the conservative super PAC Vermonters First — and the group’s unpredictability is making Democrats nervous. Over the weekend, the group re-upped with a second $100,000, two-week ad buy, according to Tayt Brooks, its treasurer and consultant.
For the time being, the super PAC is spending its megabucks slamming Democrats on health care reform and bolstering the candidacies of the two other Republicans seeking state office: Wendy Wilton and Vince Illuzzi, who are running for treasurer and auditor, respectively.
The super PAC appears particularly focused on Wilton’s race. Late last week, it sent out a statewide mailer supporting her candidacy that included absentee-ballot request forms. On Monday, it dispatched robo calls reminding mailer recipients to fill out the ballot requests and describing Wilton as “a results-oriented treasurer who will bring fiscal sanity back to Montpelier.”
While a well-known, well-financed incumbent like Shumlin can withstand an advertising onslaught, Democrats are sweating bullets over the super PAC’s impact on Wilton’s opponent: Beth Pearce, the longtime deputy treasurer who was appointed to the top job in January 2011. Like Wilton, Pearce is not widely known by the electorate. But unlike Wilton, she can’t count on six-figure super-PAC support.
“We’re incredibly confident in our ability to communicate with Vermonters about Beth’s record,” says Pearce campaign manager Ryan Emerson. “Are we going to be able to compete head to head with super-PAC money? That might be difficult.”
The big question is how Democrats will respond to the Republican ad wars.
Shumlin campaign manager Alex MacLean declined to disclose the gov’s plans, but appeared to mock the downbeat tone of Brock’s Beatles spot, saying, “Randy seems to have a permanent case of the Mondays … One would think Randy Brock is running to be pessimist-in-chief.”
Sorrell campaign manager Mike Pieciak sounds equally unconcerned about McMullen’s new ads, saying, “It’s not that he has to introduce himself; it’s that he has to redefine himself, which is a much more difficult task.”
Like Pearce and the Democratic candidates for lite gov and auditor — Cassandra Gekas and Doug Hoffer, respectively — Sorrell’s depleted campaign account does not appear big enough to sustain a television buy. But Piecak believes ads run in support of Sorrell during his contested Democratic primary “will have a residual effect in the general election.”
As for Pearce, Democratic insiders are nervously hoping that Vermont Priorities, a liberal group that registered its own super PAC in July, can raise enough money to serve as a lefty counterweight to Vermonters First — and put Pearce on TV.
Vermont Priorities chairman Bob Stannard said Tuesday that the liberal group received a new, $10,000 contribution from Shelburne developer Lisa Steele this week, bringing her total contribution to $35,000. But only $20,000 of that is earmarked for the group’s super PAC — not a penny of which has been spent — and so far Steele is its sole donor.
That’s chump change compared to the $200,000-plus its conservative counterpart has already spent.
Sucks for Zuck
Longtime Progressive David Zuckerman may have won the Democratic primary for Chittenden County state Senate, but that doesn’t mean the Dems will pony up for the ponytailed Prog.
Fair Game has learned that the political action committee run by Senate Democrats will support the five other nominated Dems competing for six seats in the state’s most populous Senate district — but not Zuckerman.
Though he wouldn’t specifically address how the PAC would spend its resources, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell said Zuckerman’s choice to run as a “Progressive/Democrat” — not the other way around — makes him ineligible for financial support.
“You certainly need to take care of your Democrats first,” Campbell says, adding that because incumbent Republican Sen. Diane Snelling would likely hold on to one of the county’s six seats, supporting Zuckerman “would be to the detriment” of the five full-fledged Dems in the race.
Typically, the Vermont Senate Victory PAC, which Campbell runs, spends the money it raises from lobbyists and incumbent senators on a postcard it sends throughout the district backing the Democratic slate. In 2010, Campbell’s PAC raised and spent $94,000 supporting Democratic Senate candidates.
While Zuckerman says the Dems are free to do as they please, he says he’s been working hard to mend partisan fences.
“I earned the support of 7200 Democratic primary voters having been clear I was going to run as a Progressive/Democrat,” he says. “I think voters, in general, are tired of the little bickering and were supporting me because I was willing to run with both parties and get down there to work on serious issues.”
Speaking of Progs and Dems, the two parties both plan to contest a Burlington City Council seat being vacated by Democrat Ed Adrian.
At a Monday-night caucus, the Progressives nominated social worker and activist Alison Segar for the Ward 1 seat, which represents the neighborhoods around Fletcher Allen and UVM. The Democrats previously nominated engineer Kevin Worden as their candidate in the special election, which will take place concurrently with the November 6 state and federal elections.
The Progs currently control three of 14 seats on the council, while Republicans hold two, independents hold two and Democrats — after Adrian steps down at the end of the month — hold six.
At his final city council meeting Monday night, Adrian’s colleagues heaped on the praise for Burlington’s political provocateur.
“Ed may seem distracted at times,” Council President Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) said, noting Adrian’s seeming addiction to Twitter, “but what is surprising is he really doesn’t miss anything. It’s not that he’s not paying attention. It’s that he’s paying attention to everything.”
Bernie for … President?
Sen. Bernie Sanders may be up for reelection in Vermont this fall, but he’s been spending a lot of time campaigning in New Hampshire. This month alone, he spoke at an AFL-CIO Labor Day breakfast and a Social Security rally — both in Manchester, N.H. — and last week headlined rallies in Keene, Claremont, Hanover, Concord and Portsmouth.
So with Bernie spending time in the first-in-the-nation primary state, does that mean he’s got his eye on the White House in 2016?
Not so much, says campaign manager Phil Fiermonte.
“The Senator is committed to helping make sure Romney does not win the White House,” Fiermonte says, noting the Granite State’s battleground status. “We’ve had great crowds and an enthusiastic response as Bernie has brought his message describing the threat posed by right-wing extremism embodied in the Romney/Ryan agenda.”
Fiermonte adds that Sanders has held more than 30 campaign events in Vermont in his epic struggle to defeat … wait, what’s his opponent’s name again?
Kingdom Coming Along
Sanders is just one of several bigwigs planning to join Jay Peak Resort co-owner Bill Stenger Thursday as the developer unveils an array of projects throughout the Northeast Kingdom. While Stenger’s mum on the details, he says the plan includes components in Newport, at the state airport in Coventry and at Burke Mountain, which Stenger bought in May.
“Those projects will represent close to $500 million of investment across three counties,” he says.
As with Jay Peak’s ongoing $250 million makeover, Stenger says the new development will be funded mostly by foreign investors through the federal EB-5 visa program, which grants foreign nationals a green card in exchange for a half-million-dollar investment in qualified projects.
Though it mostly escaped notice here in Vermont, Congress earlier this month extended the expiring visa program for another three years, allowing Stenger to move forward with his plans.
“We were certainly waiting for the reauthorization to occur. Thanks to Sen. [Patrick] Leahy, that happened,” Stenger says. “He is our champion on that.”
Vermont’s small world of policy makers and journalists was hit hard last week by the tragic death of 29-year-old former VTDigger.org reporter Alan Panebaker. The experienced white-water paddler lost his life in a kayaking accident last Wednesday, September 19, on New Hampshire’s Pemigewasset River.
Panebaker’s family and friends will hold a celebration of life at Bristol’s Eagle Park on Saturday, September 29, at 2 p.m. Donations can be made in Panebaker’s name to American Whitewater, where he worked as northeast stewardship director after leaving Digger. The organization’s address is P.O Box 1540, Cullowhee, NC 28723.