Politically Thinking: Statewide races offer little drama

Here is how I see the statewide races, with less than three weeks to go until Election Day.
President Obama will win Vermont’s electoral votes comfortably, regardless of how he does nationally. Obama’s share of the vote in Vermont, which should exceed 60 percent, could be his highest in any state, except for his workplace (the District of Columbia) and his native state (Hawaii).
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch will be re-elected convincingly over nearly unknown opponents. Sanders could receive the highest vote percentage of any statewide candidate, with his share of the vote approaching 70 percent.
Gov. Peter Shumlin is a strong favorite for re-election. Shumlin has used the advantages of incumbency to the full, campaigning while appearing not to do so. Republican Randy Brock’s campaign is spending more than it is taking in, and is in the black only because of loans from the candidate to his own campaign. More importantly, Brock is running as a conservative in a state in which Republicans have to be seen as moderates in order to win. Shumlin’s challenges will be after the election, especially if Mitt Romney is elected president or the Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate, and the flow of federal funds to states all over the country slows down substantially.
Popular Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is also a strong favorite for re-election. His Democratic/Progressive opponent, Cassandra Gekas, is making a favorable impression in broadcast debates and on many of the people she is meeting on the campaign trail. I will be interested to see whether Gekas can get a higher share of the vote against Scott than Brock can get against Shumlin.
Attorney Gen. Bill Sorrell’s big test was in the Democratic primary, against T.J. Donovan. Sorrell’s General Election campaign is limping along, with no campaign manager and little money, but that should be enough for him to be re-elected over Republican Jack McMullen, Progressive Ed Stanak, and Liberty Union candidate Rosemary Jackowski. Sorrell may have the lowest vote share of any victorious candidate, right around the 50 percent mark, especially if Stanak and Jackowski together draw a high single-digit percentage. A weak re-election showing for Sorrell would make it more likely this will be his final term as attorney general, with an open-seat race for the office in 2014.
The campaign for the open auditor’s position will be competitive. At this time, I would give Republican Vince Illuzzi a slight edge over Democrat/Progressive Doug Hoffer, largely because of Illuzzi’s energetic campaigning and deep network of political contacts all over the state. For Hoffer to win this race, he will need to hold tight to the coattails of Obama, Sanders, Welch and Shumlin, listed above him on the ballot.
The treasurer’s race is the only statewide campaign where I do not yet see a favorite. Democrat Beth Pearce, who was appointed treasurer in January 2011, should be ahead in this race — she is an experienced financial manager, the state’s bond rating is one of the highest in the country, and Pearce has the full support of all of Vermont’s senior Democrats. Many Republicans see the campaign of GOP treasurer candidate Wendy Wilton as a high priority because, as treasurer, Wilton could become a leading anti-Shumlin voice in Montpelier. With the SuperPAC Vermonters First spending heavily on Wilton’s behalf, more money may end up being spent on pro-Wilton than on pro-Pearce advertising, robocalls and direct mail. Democrats and other Pearce supporters will need to step up their efforts if Pearce is to win out over Wilton.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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