Unlike the U.S. Congress, it's highly unlikely that Democrats will lose control of either the Vermont House and Senate, but the GOP could begin to close what is now an enormous gap between themselves and their rivals.
In the Senate, Democrats hold a 23 to 7 edge over the Republicans, while in the House the Democrats have 95 of 150 seats; Republicans hold 47 seats; Progressives five, and there are three independents.
In short, Dems have a “super” majority — enough votes to muster a two-thirds vote to override any potential gubernatorial veto. They proved that last year by overriding Gov. Jim Douglas' vetoes of gay marriage and the state budget.Depending on how several key races break in the House and Senate, the Democrats could gain three seats in the House and as many as three in the Senate. On the flip side, and perhaps more likely, the GOP could pick up as many as three to five seats in the House and three to five in the Senate.
Here's my rundown of the races I'll be watching. Let me know what House and Senate races you're watching.
In the House, here are six races I’ll be watching on election night to determine just how much of the national "tidal wave" of anger -- which Sen. John McCain spoke about recently -- will wash into Vermont:
Chittenden 3-4, the Burlington Progressives’ last stand. Progressive Chris Pearson, who once represented this district, is hoping to earn his seat back. He faces incumbent Democrat Kesha Ram (who ousted him in 2008) and Democrat Peg Boyle Single, a political newcomer who is running a strong campaign. Pearson is joined on the ballot by Progressive Diane Gottlieb. If Pearson doesn't win the seat, it'll be the first time since 1991 that the Progressives haven't had a state representative from Burlington.
Rep. Megan Smith, a Democratic incumbent, is facing a strong challenge from Republican Jim Eckhardt in Rutland-Windsor 1. Smith's vote in favor of same-sex marriage and the budget veto override have stirred the hornet's nest in her district — along with some negative comments she made to a business owner who questioned the legislature's support for paid sick leave.
Other races include freshman Democrat incumbents Jeff Young in St. Albans (Franklin-3) and Bob South in St. Johnsbury (Caledonia-3) — both of whom could be in trouble because of their support for Democratic veto overrides in 2009.
Another race I'm watching is one of the open seats in a two-seat Northeast Kingdom district (Orleans 1) being vacated by Republican Scott Wheeler. Democrat Lisa Erwin-Davison, one of the folks instrumental in the passage of the autism bill, stands a good chance to pick up the seat. Incumbent Rep. Bob Lewis, a Republican, is likely to hold onto his seat in this district, which cuts across a wide swath of the Northeast Kingdom — including my old stomping grounds in Morgan and Holland, where I grew up.
Another open seat is the one vacated by Republican Patty O’Donnell in Vernon (Windham-1). The Democrats have a shot at picking up O'Donnell's old seat with Richard Davis, a longtime health care advocate and nurse, who is in a close contest with Republican Mike Hebert, chairman of the county GOP.
In an email exchange with retired Middlebury College political science prof and political prognosticator Eric Davis, he provided me with his top-five House races.
They are: Chittenden 3-4 (which I mention above) as well as the race between Republican Harvey Smith and Democrat Spence Putnam to fill Democrat Chris Bray's old seat in Addison County (Addison 5). Bray lost his race for lieutenant governor. Davis' other races include the one between incumbent Rep. Paul Poirier, a Democrat-turned-Independent, who is being challenged by Repubican Leo Valliere in Barre City; Incumbent Republican Rep. David Ainsworth, who is facing a spirited challenge by former Dean for America staffer Sarah Buxton, a Democrat, in Royalton and Tunbridge (Windsor-Orange 1). Finally, he's also watching whether Incumbent Independent Rep. Adam Greshin will fend off a challenge by Democrat Mac Rood in the Mad River Valley (Washington 1).
Like me, Davis is also intererested to see whether first-term Democrats Young in St. Albans and South in St. Johnsbury will return to Montpelier in January.
In the Senate, the closest races to watch are in Addison, Caledonia, Lamoille, Chittenden, Rutland and Washington counties. If everything breaks for the GOP, they could pick up as many as five seats, but possibly lose one, for a net gain of four.
If everything were to break for the Democrats, they could see a gain of two and loss of one.
In the two-seat Addison district, former State Rep. Mark Young (R) is trying to nab one of two seats — both currently held by Democrats Claire Ayer and Harold Giard. Giard is vulnerable, and Young could be the first Republican elected from Addison County since Tom Bahre in the 1990s. Ayer is likely to win reelection. Also in the race is Republican Andrea Ochs and Independent Robert Wagner.
In the two-seat Caledonia district, freshman Democrat Matt Choate is vulnerable with two strong challengers in Repubicans Charlie Bucknam and Joe Benning. Democrat Jane Kitchel is a sure bet for reelection. Also in the race is Independent Harvey "Bud" Otterman.
In the six-seat Chittenden County district, incumbents Tim Ashe (D/P), Ginny Lyons (D), Hinda Miller (D) and Diane Snelling (R) are safe reelection bets. Three of the remaining umpteen candidates are strong contenders for the remaining two seats: Republican Charlie Smith and Democrats Philip Baruth and former State Rep. Sally Fox. It’s anyone’s guess at this point, but I think Smith and Fox will pull out the wins, leaving Baruth just shy of a seat. Baruth was out early, but perhaps too early, and the heavy suburban turnout anticipated because of the gubernatorial contest will likely benefit Fox and Smith more than Baruth, who is from Burlington.
In the one-seat Lamoille district, two people are vying for the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Susan Bartlett — both of them former state administrators. Democrat David Yacavone worked at the Agency of Human Services under Gov. Howard Dean. He's most recently been a lobbyist for the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. Republican Rich Westman is a former state representative who left the legislature to become Douglas' tax commissioner. Westman was one of a handful of Republicans who bucked Douglas and voted to override his veto of same-sex marriage.
In the three-seat Rutland district, incumbent Democrat Bill Carris is a sure bet for reelection, but it’ll be a mad scramble for the two remaining seats. Incumbent Republicans Kevin Mullin and Peg Flory are facing a strong challenge from Democrat Bob Baird, a newcomer, along with former Sen. Cheryl Hooker. The other Republican in the race is forme State Rep. Tom DePoy. There are also two independents in the race: Dennis Morrisseau and William Cruikshank.
Carris and Mullin seem to be safe in this race, but that third seat could be a real fight between Flory, Baird and DePoy. An interesting one to watch.
In the three-seat Washington County district, the GOP could possiibly lose one, if not two, seats. Republican Phil Scott isn't running for reelection, but instead is running for lieutenant governor. That leaves incumbents Democrat Ann Cumming and Republican Bill Doyle, the unofficial dean of the Vermont Senate, facing off some spirited challenges by longtime Progressive Anthony Pollina, who is on the ballot as a Progressive/Democrat/Working Families candidate and former state Rep. Donny Osman. Also in the race are Republicans Ed Larson and David Harrington. There's an independent in the race as well: Gaelan Brown.
At this stage, Cummings seems to have a lock on reelection, and Pollina is likely to take one of the three slots. That leaves the third seat, which appears to be a close contest between Doyle and Osman. Doyle, who spends very little on his campaigns, relies on his remarkable ability to be at about every gathering of 10 or more people throughout the county. Osman, however, has been raising a lot of money and has been working the county hard. He made a strong show in the Democratic primary.
Like me, Davis sees the Addison and Washington Senate races as pretty dynamic, with a likelihood that the GOP will pick up a seat in Addison and lose one, if not two, in Washington.
At this point, I don't see the other county races as changing in terms of their current makeup. But elections in Vermont never fail to surprise.