Political Analyst Sizes Up Crowded Democratic Primary

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(Host) There are now 5 Democratic candidates seeking the Party’s 2010 gubernatorial nomination.

Eric Davis is a political science professor emeritus at Middlebury College, and he’s been researching multi-candidate primaries in Vermont. He says the winning candidate will likely be the one who can best identify and mobilize voters.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Two years ago, the Democrats were struggling to find even one gubernatorial candidate – now they have five: state senators Doug Racine, Susan Bartlett and Peter Shumlin, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and former state senator Matt Dunne.

Why are there so many candidates? Professor Davis thinks it’s a normal reaction when the state has a governor’s race with no incumbent running and a lot of people who’ve been waiting years for this situation to occur:         

(Davis) "There are all these politicians sort of from the next generation down who’ve just been waiting for a chance to run for governor and now they see this year as their opportunity. So I would say from the Democratic point of view they have a deep bench."

(Kinzel) Davis says the largest turnout in a Democratic primary took place in 1988 when four candidates were seeking the Party’s U.S. House nomination – it was an open race because incumbent Jim Jeffords was running for the U.S. Senate.

Davis says roughly 40,000 people voted in the 1988 Democratic primary, and as a result, he doesn’t think more than 60,000 people will vote in the Party’s primary next year.

That means the winning candidate could be elected with less than 30 % of the total – or roughly 20 thousand votes. It’s a situation that Davis says places a lot of importance on the organizational skills of the various campaigns:

(Davis) "Mobilizing voters, making sure they turn out, trying to get supporters identified early and having them cast ballots early rather than wait until Election Day… So there may be relatively less emphasis on broadcast advertising leading up to the primary and more emphasis on the ground game so to speak – organization, mobilization and identification of voters."

(Kinzel) To win the General Election against Republican Brian Dubie, Davis says the Democrats need to select a candidate who can energize their core base of voters. He notes that this didn’t happen in a gubernatorial race in Virginia early this month and the Republican candidate won by a large margin:

(Davis) "The turnout in all of those groups was down significantly from the 2008 presidential to the 2009 gubernatorial election…and that’s what the Vermont Democratic party needs to avoid next year – nominating somebody who can’t get the base and the core Democratic voters enthusiastic about her or his campaign for the General Election."

(Kinzel) Davis says he doesn’t think the Progressives will run a candidate for governor in 2010 and will concentrate instead on the race for Lt. Governor and a number of legislative contests.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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