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Vermont's Primary: Are We There Yet?

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Like a kid trapped too long in a car during a summer vacation trip, Vermont voters (or at least this political reporter) are asking: Are we there yet?

The longest and most expensive gubernatorial primary in Vermont history will come to an end tomorrow, and everyone wants to know who among the five Democrats will earn the honor of facing Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie in the fall election. (To read up on all five, check out Seven Days' Andy Bromage's excellent profiles)

Face it, the primary is a crap shoot to call, which makes it more exciting than perhaps the race itself; a race in which five Democrats largely agreed with each other on most major policy issues and made no embarrassing stumbles.

I can envision several scenarios playing out tomorrow depending on voter turnout, the weather and the effects of the full moon. In fact, I can see scenarios in which at least three of the five candidates have a shot at winning.

To find out who wins, keep an eye on Blurt tomorrow as myself, Andy Bromage and Ken Picard will be blogging (and Twittering) straight through until we know all the winners. We'll start tomorrow morning and continue throughout the day. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, predictions or observations as the day unfolds.

As for predictions, I was on Vermont This Week Friday night with Anne Galloway of VTDigger.org and Geoffrey Norman of Vermont Tiger, and when pressed by host Mark Johnson I offered this possible scenario based on a turnout of about 40,000 to 45,000:

Deb Markowitz - 28%

Doug Racine: 26%

Peter Shumlin: 24%

Matt Dunne: 17%

Susan Bartlett: 5%

That said, if turnout is high - say more than 50,000 - I could see a different outcome:

Shumlin: 27%

Racine: 25%

Markowitz 23%

Dunne: 20%

Bartlett: 5%

If turnout is very low, say 40,000 or less, I could see this outcome:

Racine: 26%

Markowitz: 24%

Shumlin: 22%

Dunne: 16%

Bartlett: 12%

Seven Days readers offered some of their own scenarios, too, in the comments section of a Blurt post last week on the most recent fundraising reports.

It really is a tough race to call because none of the Democrats have broken out of the pack. Markowitz has held onto the frontrunner status with solid fundraising numbers, small dollar donations and name recognition in the polls, with two polls showing her the most competitive against Dubie in the fall election and a third showing her besting the lite gov. 

A spirited Democratic primary in Washington County could help buoy her support given that she lives she's from Middlesex and works in Montpelier. Then again, the appearance of former Progressive candidate Anthony Pollina in the Washington County Senate Democratic primary could bring Progs to the voting booth. To date, Progs have largely split their support between Racine and Shumlin.

That said, Racine's supporters tend to be the kind of Democrats who vote in primaries: Older, activist, old-school liberals. His Chittenden County base will turn out for him, largely because there are competitive primaries in a couple of House districts — Burlington and Charlotte — and for state senate.

Shumlin has the backing of the fervent single-payer supporters, anti-Vermont Yankee activists and southern Vermont. A three-way primary for two seats in his old Senate district will help ensure that his backers in Windham County turn out. Shumlin has been surging in the polls since leaving the statehouse in June, and was the first candidate up with TV ads. Whether he can turn a surge in the polls to a lead in the polls is an open question. If this race were held later than tomorrow, I'd wager on Shumlin to win.

Dunne has the hardest demographic to turn out to the polls: Business leaders and younger voters. They tend to sit out primaries in greater numbers than general elections. But, Dunne is the wild card. If he pulls enough votes from the other candidates and they fail to energize their base, he could eke out a win.

Bartlett, however, has the toughest job of all five. Moderates tend not to vote in primaries, and they are a hard group to motivate to the polls unless they see a clear line toward victory in November.

Soon enough, this grueling primary will be over and we can turn our attention to a winnowed field of candidates in competitive races for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and auditor, among others. Can't wait!

Here's a rundown of the other races, and some predictions. I'm sure I'll rue making them public, but hey, what else are political columnists good for anyway?

Feel free to chime in with your own.

U.S. Senate (Democrat)

Incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy is being challenged by newcomer Dan Freilich, who made a national splash recently with a parody ad. That won't be enough for this David to topple Goliath in this primary and Leahy easily wins. The question is whether Freilich can get into double digits. Not to fret, Freilich will be back in the fall election as an independent, where he'll join several other candidates including Republican Len Britton.

U.S. House (Republican)

This spirited three-way race between radio host Paul Beaudry, former businessman John Mitchell and business owner Keith Stern. While Mitchell is well-known in GOP business circles, I see Beaudry as the person likely to win this race due to name recognition thanks to his radio show and his Tea Party leanings.

Lt. Governor (Republican)

Sen. Phil Scott versus businessman Mark Snelling, the son of former Gov. Richard Snelling and Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling. Despite the fact that most Republican primary voters tend to be older and wealthier, and therefore likely to know the Snelling surname, I give Scott the edge in this race thanks to strong support from the Northeat Kingdom, Washington County and heavy turnout expected in Rutland County where the GOP has a spirited four-way race for three seats in the Rutland County Senate.

Lt. Governor (Democrat)

Rep. Christoper Bray versus Rep. Steve Howard, a former state party official and unsuccessful candidate for secretary of state in the late 1990s. He lost to none other than Deb Markowitz. Bray has run a strong campaign — his first statewide effort — and has received the backing of five newspaper editorial boards. Howard, on the other hand, has received the backing of more traditional Democratic groups — labor unions. In this race, given his name recognition in the party and the endorsements I give the edge to Howard.

Secretary of State (Republican)

Attorney and former Williston Selectboard member Chris Roy versus former Commissioner Forest of Parks and Recreation, and gubernatorial spokesman, Jason Gibbs. Roy entered the race in mid-2009, while Gibbs entered at the close of the legislative session. Of all the races, this is one of the toughest. At this stage, the momentum appears to be on Gibbs' side as he gobbles up legislative endorsements. He's also received the endorsement of Gov. Jim Douglas. This could be the first test of Douglas' political coattails. At this stage, I give the edge to Gibbs.

Secretary of State (Democrat)

Former state Sen. Jim Condos versus attorney Charles Merriman. Condos has served on the South Burlington City Council and in the state Senate and has been a longtime fixture in the party, while Merriman is relatively new to party politics. Given his labor endorsements and name recognition in the party, I give the edge in this race to Condos.

Auditor of Accounts (Democrat)

Former State Auditor and State Sen. Ed Flanagan versus political newcomer Doug Hoffer. Up until this past weekend, I thought this race would see Flanagan eke out a win over Hoffer, even despite some of the questions raised about his judgment and ability to serve. Then on Sunday, Hoffer announced he had the backing of all five Democrats for governor, a group that includes three of Flanagan's senatorial colleagues. I give the edge in this race now to Hoffer. The winner will face incumbent Republican Tom Salmon. Salmon faces his first election this fall as a Republican. He was elected to the post twice as a Democrat.

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