Behind the numbers: ‘undecideds’ in the lt. gov. race

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(Host) All indications are that the race for lieutenant governor is a virtual three-way tie with a lot of voters still undecided about their choice. In the second part of our series, “Behind the Numbers,” VPR’s Bob Kinzel examines how the three candidates are shaping their campaign strategies to win the “undecided vote.”

(Kinzel) There’s little doubt that the race for lieutenant governor this year is a wide open contest among the three major party candidates: Democrat Peter Shumlin, Republican Brian Dubie and Progressive Anthony Pollina. The three candidates are all bunched together in the VPR poll, which was taken in the middle of September, and almost 30% of all voters are undecided.

Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis thinks Pollina faces a significant challenge in the final weeks of the campaign. Two years ago when Pollina ran for governor, he lost support in the last weeks when Democrats painted him as a spoiler in the race between Howard Dean and Ruth Dwyer. Davis says Pollina needs to tightly hold on to his base this year if he’s to have any chance of finishing first in this three way race:

(Davis) “You don’t have with the major party candidates, the strong feelings and the polarizing issues that we had in the gubernatorial campaign two years ago. So that might mean that Pollina could hold onto a bit more of his supporters. I think many Pollina supporters will also start weighing in their minds the extreme unlikelihood, improbability, impossibility of Pollina ever being elected to the office by the Legislature and might take another look at the major party candidates – and particularly Shumlin – as someone to whom they might transfer their support in the last few weeks.”

(Kinzel) Jack Hoffman, a long time journalist who has covered politics in Vermont for over 25 years, says Democrat Peter Shumlin faces a difficult situation. Hoffman says Shumlin and Pollina are vying for many of the same undecided voters and Hoffman expects Shumlin and the Democrats to repeat the campaign theme they used against Pollina two years ago. Hoffman says this strategy takes on additional importance because it’s likely that the balance of power in the Senate between the Republicans and the Democrats will be very close:

(Hoffman) “In other words, the person who’s presiding over the Senate could make a big difference. So I would expect that’s the kind of argument that you would hear from the Democrats. They would have to wage a similar campaign to the one that Howard Dean used against Ruth Dwyer last time, and that a vote for Pollina is a vote for Brian Dubie. He’s got the added burden of then explaining why, from his perspective, that voting In other words, the person who’s presiding over the Senate could make a big difference. So I would expect that’s the kind of argument that you would hear from, for Brian Dubie would be a problem.”

(Kinzel) Because there is a high probability that no candidate in the race for lieutenant governor will receive 50% of the vote, it’s very likely that the Legislature will elect the next lieutenant governor. Most political observers believe that the Republicans will have a majority of the 180 members of the General Assembly. Given this reality, Professor Davis thinks Republican Brian Dubie’s strategy is very different from Pollina’s and Shumlin’s:

(Davis) “Which is, concentrate on getting as high a turnout as possible among your core supporters: the Republicans knowing that as long as you finish first in a three-way race, you’re almost certain to be elected by a Republican Legislature. And in a way I think the Legislature might be more willing to vote for Dubie if he came in second for lieutenant governor than to vote for Douglas if he came in second for governor. Since the lieutenant governor’s functions are primarily legislative, the Republicans in the Legislature might think, ‘Well we’re a majority of the members, we deserve to have a presiding officer in the Senate who is from the majority party.”

(Kinzel) Davis says the key factor to watch in this race is how strong Pollina remains as a candidate in the final two weeks of the campaign. If Pollina holds on to many of his current supporters, Davis says Shumlin may have a hard time winning the contest.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

(Host) Tomorrow in a look “Behind the Numbers,” we’ll examine the battle to control the Vermont Senate and the Legislature’s role in electing the next governor or lieutenant governor.

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