Now that Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has announced his intentions to run for governor, the state’s political landscape has become a lot clearer — and that landscape might pose a surprisingly stiff challenge for Democrats to take back the governor’s seat.
Consider that Dubie fits that classic all-American persona — a physically fit man who is a commercial pilot with a military background, former school board chairman of one of the state’s largest towns (Essex Junction), and a politician with seven years experience as backup to the governor. Now, pair Dubie with businessman Mark Snelling, who has a good chance of becoming the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor. Snelling is a successful Shelburne businessman, an inventive entrepreneur at a time when job creation and economic development is one of the state’s top priorities, and who has one of the most recognizable political names in the state.
While the two positions are not coupled in Vermont, it would be a natural fit to see Dubie and Snelling campaigning together and striking a pretty telegenic pose — and they would likely be campaigning without a primary opponent uttering a negative word about either candidate.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are preparing for a primary slugfest with what is likely to be at least five well-known candidates. Already in the race are Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, state senator and former Lt. Gov. Doug Racine and Sen. Susan Bartlett. Sources also say that Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin will soon join the race, while former Sen. Matt Dunne might as well.
Three things are likely to happen. First, because primaries attract support from the most ardent of the party faithful that pushes these Democratic candidates to court political left for much of the next year. Second, it’s likely that the winner will not only muster less than 25 percent of the vote, but will likely be pretty-well bruised and battered in the process — with a lot of unkind things said about each of the candidates. Third, the Democrat(s) running for lieutenant governor will be completely overshadowed by the governor’s race.
When the primary battle ends in late summer, the party will be expected to resurrect the winning Democratic candidate, raise lots of money (from the supporters of the four losers as well — good luck with that) for the general election, and move their candidate toward the political middle (oh, and promote the forgotten lieutenant governor candidate) with just three months remaining against two all-American, pro-business Republicans who will have pitched themselves as political moderates.
Democrats who think policy differences between the two parties are going to carry the day for them, might do a little role-playing to imagine how this political theater might be played out on the real stage.
Our hunch is that it won’t be the cakewalk Democrats thought it would be just a few weeks ago.