The Pulse of Vermont: lieutenant governor’s race

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(Host) According to a new VPR poll, the race for lieutenant governor is wide open and features a large number of undecided voters.

In Part Two of this week’s series “The Pulse of Vermont,” VPR’s Bob Kinzel examines this contest and some related issues.

(Kinzel) It’s hard to imagine this race being any closer than it currently is. If the election were held today, three major party candidates would be bunched together in a virtual dead heat.

Democrat Peter Shumlin and Republican Brian Dubie are tied with 24% of the vote and Progressive Anthony Pollina has 22%. Twenty-nine percent of those people polled are undecided.

Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says it’s clear that no candidate in this race is going to receive 50% of the vote and that means the Legislature will elect the next lieutenant governor:

(Davis) “About a third of the voters have not yet made up their mind. But looking at the distribution of choices at this point in the campaign, even if those undecideds were to break rather substantially toward one of the three candidates, it’s unlikely any of them will get the 50% needed to win this race on election day.”

(Kinzel) Davis says there are a number of factors that could influence the outcome of the election:

(Davis) “It may also come down to Chittenden County versus the southern part of the state. Brian Dubie is from Chittenden has a strong political base there. Peter Shumlin’s very well known down in Windham County, Brattleboro his home territory. So it could be decided on a geographical basis. It could be decided on a campaign spending basis. Party is not going to be unimportant in this race, either. I think taking all of these things together, I’d probably give a slight edge to Shumlin but it’s probably the difference between something like 40% and 38%.”

(Kinzel) The poll was conducted by Action Research. Company spokeswoman Sheryl Eaton thinks Progressive Anthony Pollina faces some big challenges in increasing his level of support:

(Eaton) “Not sure what Anthony Pollina can do from here on in. Basically he’s being favored by 100% of the Progressive Party, so I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to pull any more voters along with him. But right now he’s right in there with 22%.”

(Kinzel) It’s also clear from the poll that Vermonters do not want the Legislature to elect the next governor or lieutenant governor. Under the Vermont Constitution, these statewide races would decided by a secret vote of all 180 members of the General Assembly in January if no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote in November.

Of those polled, 32% either strongly approve or somewhat approve of this system; 52% strongly disapprove or somewhat disapprove; 11% are neutral. Professor Eric Davis thinks these results are significant:

(Davis) “There’s going to be a lot of public sentiment that the Legislature should vote for whoever comes in first. If one has – going back to our governor’s question – a situation in which Racine comes in first, Douglas comes in second and the Legislature is majority Republican, there is going to be a lot of public pressure on the GOP legislators to cast their ballots for governor for either the statewide winner or the winner in their district, even if that person is not the same party as they are.”

(Kinzel) The poll also found very strong support for the campaign spending limits in Vermont’s campaign finance reform law. The law is currently being litigated in the federal court system. Of those responding to the poll, 67% either strongly or somewhat strongly support the limits, while 11% either strongly or somewhat strongly disapprove of them.

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

(Host) The poll was conducted September 12-15, 2002. 638 Vermonters participated in the poll, which has a margin of error or plus or minus 4.5%.

In tomorrow’s report, we’ll look at how Vermonters feel about the economy, a possible war with Iraq and a potential Dean presidential campaign against President Bush.

Read the “Pulse of Vermont” poll results online.

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