Our telephone has been ringing off the hook with Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Progressives and just plain Vermonters sounding a single alarm: "Please get Rich Tarrant to stop running those commercials!"
You know the ones. They're the over-the-top, overproduced attack commercials filling the Vermont airwaves this month. The unmistakable ones that attempt to portray Bernie Sanders, one of the best-known, hardest-working and most-respected public officials in Vermont history, as someone who sneakily works in Washington for the interests of child molesters and drug dealers.
"Look, we all know he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps and started a successful business. Well, good for him!" said one Republican Statehouse veteran on a "not-for-attribution" basis the other day.
"But, please!" he begged with passion in his old deer-hunter voice, "Tell Tarrant he's got to stop running those damn ads. They're awful! People are gonna lose respect for the man. After all, everybody already knows Bernie. And they don't know much of anything about Tarrant except for his money. Why doesn't he tell voters where he stands on things?"
(By the way, a few of those holding this print edition of Seven Days might recognize the paragraph above. It was posted online at Seven Days' website on Saturday, on the new "Freyne Land" blog: http://7d.blogs.com/freyneland/.
C'mon gang, get with the program! We miss the good old pre-Internet days, too, but online is happening. If you're a weekly "Inside Track" regular, you'll love "Freyne Land." Daily updates and you get to have your say, too.)
We've been getting call after call from folks, mostly the "little people" whose paths have been crossed by Tarrant during the software-system salesman's climb to the top of the financial heap. The common theme contained therein is that they just can't believe the former IDX CEO and chairman of the board - who also served on the boards of the University Health Center and Fletcher Allen Health Care while a massive criminal fraud was being perpetrated by the hospital's top executives - can possibly imagine that Vermonters find him a credible candidate for the United States Senate.
One former Mary Fanny executive-branch employee told us this week how FAHC spent $9 million replacing its perfectly fine software with an IDX "patient accounting" system. The $9 million IDX package, our source noted, had been divided into smaller $1.5 million contracts to avoid state law regarding the hospital purchase, as well as any state oversight it would trigger.
Nice. You know, maybe Richie Rich would actually fit right in with the GOP caucus in Washington, eh?
Tarrant's IDX software also turned out not to work very well, our source tells us. In fact, customer satisfaction, she said, was in the 50 to 60 percent range. The system it replaced was getting approval ratings in the mid-90s.
Then we got a call Tuesday morning from an exasperated South Burlington resident, a 41-year-old "house husband" and dad with a working wife who'd reached the breaking point with Tarrant for Senate emails and posts. Tim Allen told us he had complained to Tarrant HQ, and even to Burlington Free Press writer Sam Hemingway. But the Tarrant mail kept coming, and the Freeps never wrote about it.
Allen said he's been in Vermont his whole life except for four years in the U.S. Air Force serving in Turkey. He told "Inside Track" he eventually got Candidate Tarrant on the phone. Allen said he told Mr. Tarrant that, based on his campaign's mailings and TV advertising, "It just bewilders me that you want to be a senator!"
According to Mr. Allen, Tarrant replied, "You don't know what you're talking about!"
Sounds like Richie, eh?
"The problem is, he's negative-campaigning," said an exasperated Allen. "I don't always agree with Bernie, but he does what he says and follows through most of the time."
The South Burlingtonian said he told Mr. Tarrant he'd like "to hear more about his stand on real issues," rather than endless TV and radio commercials and emails devoted to "smearing Bernie Sanders."
That appears to be asking a lot, Mr. Allen. A lot more than Richie the Rookie is capable of delivering.
Is It Working? - As we've noted before, history tells us that propaganda is a powerful political tool. So far, Mr. Tarrant has spent more than $5 million developing, packaging and marketing his unique-to-Vermont propaganda campaign. Everybody by now has noticed.
Our sixth sense tells us that Tarrant's packaging, message and spending habits have not been helping his cause. Based on the Vermont political soul we've been familiar with since Republican Gov. Dick Snelling beat Democrat Ed Granai in the 1980 guv's race, Richie's record-breaking political ad campaign is driving more Vermonters nuts on a daily basis than anything we can recall.
Today we have some fresh evidence to back up that statement. We've obtained the results of weekend tracking polls conducted by the Sanders for Senate Campaign and leaked to "Inside Track" by a Sanders insider.
According to our source, it was a Friday-to-Sunday statewide telephone poll of 500 Vermonters. Ol' Bernardo came out leading Richie the Tarantula 65-29.
That's right, folks, after eight months of nonstop TV advertising, Tarrant is at 29 percent. That, my friends, is embarrassing.
In addition, 52 percent of likely voters contacted last weekend said they thought Mr. Tarrant has been running "a negative campaign." Really?
Back in July, our source says, only 23 percent thought the Tarantula was running a negative campaign. Guess a whole lot of people watch TV, eh?
Obviously, the new Tarrant TV attack strategy of the last six weeks is producing results. No question about that.
"I can't believe, however," said our Sanderista source, "it was the results he wanted."
While the weekend poll showed 65 percent of Vermonters contacted have a positive feeling for Bernie, only 29 percent felt "positive" about the Tarantula. That means a whole lot of Republicans can't stomach him, either.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of watching one of the Tarantula's nasty TV commercials, immediately followed by a Martha Rainville for Congress "ethics in government" and "clean campaigning" commercial, rightly wonders if both candidates are really on the same Vermont Republican Party ballot?
Lucky Martha, eh?
Speaking of Martha - The weekend poll also showed Democrat Peter Welch holding onto his lead over Republican Martha Rainville in the race for Ol' Bernardo's open U.S. House seat - the one he's warmed well for the last 16 years.
Last November, Peter the Pet Owner and Martha the then-National Guard generalissima were in a 40-40 dead heat, with the rest undecided.
But six weeks ago in early July, Welch opened up a 7-point lead over Rainville: 45-38. Then last weekend's poll showed him holding that lead as more undecided voters decide. Welch remains on top 47-41 - still way too close too call.
The Virgin Martha's "clean campaign" ads certainly haven't hurt her. But, like the other Vermont Republican Party statewide hopefuls, she's got to be worried about a spill-over negative backlash on November 7 against anyone on the ballot labeled "Republican," because of George W. Bush and the wrong direction he's taken us in.
And, like incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and the rest of the Vermont Republican bench, she's got to be worried that the growing negative reaction to Tarrant's nasty, un-Vermont-style campaigning prevents voters from checking her name, too.
Problem No. 2 - The war in Iraq looms large. How can a Republican win a seat in the U.S. House at a time like this? Candidate Rainville certainly does not lack for guts.
However, her loyalty to President Bush, the Great Fabricator, is starting to show her weakness.
A recent CBS-New York Times poll showed that 51 percent of Americans surveyed do not see any link between the "War on Terror" and the Bush administration-led "War in Iraq." That marks a 10-point jump from 41 percent in July.
The truth just might set us free after all, eh?
This latest showing, that Americans are getting smart about the Bush Team's successful bait-and-switch technique, must be of grave concern to the troops over at Camp Rainville. On her campaign website - www.martharainville.com - the Virgin Martha has this statement posted indicating her inability to distinguish between the two wars:
Q: What are your thoughts on the War in Iraq and The Global War on Terror?
A: For the United States to be successful at defeating global terrorism, America must support democratic and free societies. In Iraq our military is working hard to do just that. Their mission is incredibly difficult and our troops deserve the tools and equipment they need to carry out their mission.
Reality Check: Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with Osama and the al Qaeda crew. Nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism!
In fact, last week veteran Connecticut Republican Rep. Chris Shays, a longtime Iraq War supporter, said enough is enough. Shays wants "a timetable for withdrawal."
If a Democrat says that, Dick Cheney calls 'em a traitor.
Sticking close to Bush will not make Rainville our next congressman.
Speaking of King James - In the last two weeks Gov. Douglas has renewed his focus on environmentally friendly topics. Does he know something we don't?
Last week, just after Seven Days hit the street, the news leaked out that Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie had come out of the closet on commercial wind power on Vermont ridge lines.
The Doobster, twice a successful running mate of King James - in a state the rest of America thinks is a leftist rebel colony - expressed his support for what Douglas condemns as "the industrialization of our ridge lines. " Doobie-Doo called wind farms "beautiful."
Asked the next day if he'd heard of a Dubie wind-shift, Gov. Douglas said he was unaware of any.
He's aware now, but he has been unusually silent about it.
What does Brian Dubie know that we don't?
Well, one thing both Douglas and Dubie act like they know is that their reelection looks a lot dicier than anyone thought it would be six months ago.
Just six weeks ago, our Sanders for Senate Campaign source says their numbers showed Douglas way out in front of Skidder, er, Scudder Parker the Democrat. Jimbo enjoyed an almost 30-point advantage, leading Parker 55-28!
But the Sanders poll shows Ol' Scudder suddenly moving up while Douglas stays in neutral. Sure, King James remained on top, but the gap narrowed to 54-37. Interesting, considering Skidder's still far from a household word in Vermont, and is still not advertising on TV.
Meanwhile, Jim Douglas hit the airwaves Monday with his first campaign spot championing his "agenda of affordability."
Sounds good, eh?
But with our incumbent GOP lite-gov publicly distancing himself from his running mate on energy policy, and our incumbent anti-wind-power GOP governor suddenly pumping out a string of pro-environment press releases, do you think they've discovered their own soft spot?
After all, energy and environmental issues are Democratic Candidate Parker's area of expertise.
Please hold all bets.
Flashback/Update - Popped in the Burlington Mayor's office late Monday afternoon, and who did we find in the inner office of current Prog Mayor Bob Kiss but the wife of the former Democratic mayor!
Shocking! Call the New York Post!
Actually Betsy Ferries, wife of former Prog-turned-Democrat Mayor Peter Clavelle, was sitting around the long table with the mayor and a half-dozen other folks talking about what Burlington can do to continue helping adopted sister city Moss Point, Mississippi, one year after Hurricane Katrina.
Betsy and Mayor Moonie and many other volunteers went down to Moss Point last September. What does she remember most from a year ago?
"The damage," said Betsy, "and actually what was the least visible damage."
The coastline had been "decimated" by a 30-foot wave, she said, "but for 2 to 3 miles inland, all the rivers and bayous had flooded and backed up with sewage, mold and rotting furniture."
One year later, there's still a lot of work that needs doing, she told us. A lot. Contact the mayor's office to help out. Ask for veteran chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Faye Lawes: 865-7272.
Meanwhile, the former mayor, we're told, is enjoying his new life in the private sector working for Burlington-based ARD - www.ardinc.com. And next week ex-Mayor Clavelle is off to Uganda for a few weeks.
According to its website, ARD is training local government officials in Uganda and implementing a USAID-funded decentralization program.
Hey, wonder if the annual Vermont Town Meeting system would work?
The former First Lady of the Queen City has also undergone a bit of a career move. Ferries, the longtime wellness director in the Essex schools, has gone to work for the Sisters of Mercy. She's director of planning and evaluation at Mercy Connections - www.mercyconnections.org.
"We do wonderful work," she said, "for women who are marginalized."
Best wishes to both. Mayor Moonie was in that corner office for 15 years. If he can do for Uganda what he did for Burlington...