(Host) Competition for a number of seats in the Vermont Senate this year has thrown into question which party will have a majority when the Legislature convenes in January. In the third and final part of our series, “Behind the Numbers,” VPR’s Bob Kinzel looks at some of these races and how the make up of the Legislature could affect who the next governor and lieutenant governor will be.
(Kinzel) A lot of attention is being focused on the Vermont Senate because the Democrats hold a slim 16 to 14 majority in that chamber and because many political observers believe that the Republicans will be able to maintain their strong majority in the Vermont House.
Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis believes there are at least eight counties where it’s very difficult to predict the outcome:
(Davis) “Chittenden: will the Democrats be able to hold on to 5 seats there? Addison County: what are Claire Ayer’s chances of defeating Tom Bahre? Washington district will be very close. The Susan Bartlett-Kathy Voyer race in Lamoille county. The rematch between Mark McDonald and Bill Corrow in Orange County. Windham County, where there are two open democratic seats. Bennington County where Gerry Morrissey stepped down so there’s an open Republican seat. Franklin County where there’s an open Republican seat and Sarah Kittell the Democrat won by a narrow margin two years ago. I could see scenarios where the Senate could be anywhere from 17 to 13 Republican, to 16 to 14 Democratic.”
(Kinzel) The composition of the General Assembly could be very important if no candidate in either the governor’s race or the lieutenant governor’s contest receives 50% of the vote, because under the Vermont Constitution, the Legislature in a secret ballot, will elect the next governor or lieutenant governor. It’s widely believed that the Republicans will hold a majority of the 180 lawmakers.
How much of a margin would Democrat Doug Racine have to win by in the gubernatorial race, in order for GOP lawmakers to vote for him and not Republican Jim Douglas ? Davis has some definite thoughts about this question:
(Davis) “My threshold there would be 10,000 votes. In recent statewide elections the total turnout has tended to be around 250,000. So a 10,000 vote margin on a turnout of 250,000 would be about a 4% gap between the first and second place finisher. Ten thousand votes is a round number, it’s an easy number for voters to conceptualize.”
(Kinzel) Jack Hoffman, a veteran journalist who’s covered Vermont politics for over 25 years, says he won’t be surprised if GOP lawmakers elect Douglas if Douglas comes in second with a margin larger than 4%:
(Hoffman) “The Republicans have only had, since 1976 they’ve only managed to put one person in the governor’s office, which was Dick Snelling on two different occasions. This is going to be their only opportunity to get the governor’s office for a long, long time and I think that argument is carrying weight with a lot of people. If they see an opportunity – and the Constitution certainly gives the Legislature the authority to vote which ever candidate they want – I think we could see a fairly substantial gap and it could still go the second place finisher.”
(Kinzel) A number of lawmakers say they will determine for whom to vote by which candidate receives the most votes in their district. Hoffman says a review of recent gubernatorial races shows that, using this method, the candidate who finished first would be elected by a strong majority of lawmakers.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.