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Politically thinking: Scott's prospects looking favorable

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Posted on July 9, 2015 |
By Eric Davis



Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has told reporters that he will make an announcement in the fall about his plans for 2016. Scott is seriously interested in running for governor, but he needs some time to work through issues related to the ownership and control of the business he co-owns and manages.

Scott and his cousin Don DuBois run DuBois Construction Inc. in Middlesex. The company does much of its business with state agencies and municipal governments. Scott wants to make sure that neither he nor the company would face potential conflict-of-interest situations should he be elected governor.

If Scott declares his candidacy for governor, I believe there is a reasonably high probability that he would be elected to the office.

Scott would be unlikely to face any serious opposition in next year’s Republican primary. Scott could begin focusing on the General Election from the time he declares his candidacy. On the Democratic side, several strong candidates would have to face each other in the August primary before being able to concentrate on the General Election. This head start to the fall campaign would be a major advantage to Scott as he prepares to overcome the disadvantages of running as a Republican in Vermont in a presidential election year.

Scott received 57 percent of the vote for lieutenant governor in 2012, in the same election in which Barack Obama won Vermont with 67 percent. Scott did even better in 2014, when he was re-elected to a third term with 62 percent. In 2012, about 40 percent of the people who voted for Obama for president also voted for Scott for lieutenant governor — a very high rate of ticket-splitting.

Scott should benefit again from ticket-splitting in 2016. Assuming that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential candidate next year, she is unlikely to generate the same levels of enthusiasm in Vermont that Obama did in 2012 and 2016, especially if disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters are not that highly motivated to get behind Clinton’s campaign.

Clinton is likely to do about the same in Vermont as John Kerry in 2004, who received 59 percent of the vote in November after defeating Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination. Under those circumstances, Scott could win the governorship with the votes of only 20 percent of those who vote Democratic for president, about half the level of ticket-splitting from which he benefited in 2012.

If the Progressive Party runs a gubernatorial candidate in 2016, that would also work to Scott’s advantage. A Progressive candidate would divide the non-Republican vote with the eventual Democratic nominee. The likely outcome of a Progressive candidate’s entering the race would be a third-place finish for the Progressive and a first-place finish for Scott.

Many Progressive activists feel very strongly about the need for a more progressive tax structure in Vermont, as well as the need for single-payer health care. Whether they would be willing to support a Democratic candidate whose positions on those issues would be closer to the political center remains to be seen.

Another factor working in Scott’s favor would be the sense among many Vermont voters that it is “time for a change” after six years of one-party Democratic control in Montpelier. Some voters will see the idea of a moderate Republican governor as a useful check on a Democratic legislative majority, especially on fiscal matters. Other voters will want to see a completely new set of people brought in to manage state programs, especially those, such as Vermont Health Connect and the Department for Children and Families, that have experienced major problems in recent years. All told, a favorable environment for Scott should he decide to run.

Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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