Politically Thinking: State elections still too close to call

Many questions about the Vermont elections remain unsettled in the final week of the campaign.
Peter Welch and Patrick Leahy will be returned to the House and Senate by substantial margins. But will Democrats Welch and Leahy be members of the majority or the minority party when the 112th Congress convenes in January? Welch is likely to be in the minority in the House, while enough of Leahy’s Senate Democratic colleagues should be re-elected that he will continue in the majority.
With less than a week to go until Election Day, the gubernatorial campaign is still too close to call. The winner may be the candidate whose organization does the best job of mobilizing and turning out voters. Does Peter Shumlin’s or Brian Dubie’s campaign have a better “ground game” to identify supporters and make sure they go to the polls?
The Democratic base in Vermont is larger than the Republican base. Thus, a higher turnout — around 60 percent of the registered voters — should work in Shumlin’s favor. A lower turnout — closer to 50 percent — would work to Dubie’s advantage. Shumlin would also benefit from strong turnout among young and first-time voters, groups that often do not go to the polls in non-presidential years.
Could Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Vermont next Monday help put Shumlin over the top? Will the Shumlin campaign organize a final get-out-the-vote surge to accompany Biden’s appearance? National Democrats see Vermont, along with California, as states where departing Republican governors could be succeeded by newly elected Democrats. The Biden event, and the media focus that will accompany it, could be the final push Shumlin needs to finish first.
There are five independent candidates for governor on the ballot in addition to Shumlin and Dubie. Will the independents receive enough votes to hold both major party candidates below 50 percent, sending the election of the governor to the Legislature to be decided in January?
Historically, independents such as those on this year’s ballot have each received between three-tenths and six-tenths of one percent of the vote. Thus, the five independents together may get as much as 2 percent of the vote. If so, Shumlin or Dubie would need a 5,000 to 6,000 vote margin over the other to be assured of clearing the 50 percent threshold next Tuesday.
Who will win the open-seat races for lieutenant governor and secretary of state? The recent Vermont Public Radio poll indicated that none of the candidates for these offices could be rated either positively or negatively by more than half of those surveyed. How do Phil Scott, Steve Howard, Jim Condos and Jason Gibbs spread the word about their candidacies over the final weekend, when media coverage will be focused heavily on the gubernatorial campaign? How will voters make their choices among these relatively unknown candidates? Scott may have a slight edge over Howard for lieutenant governor, while Condos and Gibbs appear to be in a very close contest for secretary of state.
Will Tom Salmon be re-elected as auditor in his first race for that office as a Republican? Or, will Democrat Doug Hoffer’s extensive knowledge of the work of the auditor’s office, Hoffer’s likely edge over Salmon in newspaper endorsements, and Salmon’s personal and political problems over the past two years result in a victory for Hoffer? Many respondents to the VPR poll could not rate either Salmon or Hoffer, and Salmon had only 38 percent support in the poll. This is not a strong number for an incumbent shortly before an election.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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