With just five weeks to go before Election Day, the race for State Treasurer is getting very personal.
There really isn’t an incumbent in this race. Democratic Treasurer Beth Pearce was appointed when Jeb Spaulding resigned to become Administration Secretary. Previously, she had served as Spaulding’s chief deputy.
Rutland City Treasurer Wendy Wilton is the Republican challenger. In the past few weeks Wilton has raised issues concerning the stability of the state’s pension funds and the transparency of the Treasurer’s office.
But the campaign took a decidedly personal turn this week when Wilton charged that Pearce’s decision to rent and not buy a house in Barre, was a sign that Pearce isn’t "fully committed" to Vermont. In contrast, Wilton says she’s owned a home for more than 25 years.
"She’s the Treasurer of our state and so what I’m wondering about is the commitment ok" said Wilton. " So I think at this point the Vermont voters certainly have the right to evaluate the candidate’s commitment whether it’s her or me based on a variety of issues but as much about what we do and our actions in our lives as well as what we say."
Pearce was outraged at Wilton’s allegations.
"I’m a Vermonter and to question my commitment to the state that I love is offensive," said Pearce. "When Wendy wants to have an adult conversation about Vermont’s bottom line, the triple A bond rating that I’ve improved I’m ready to do that. This office is way too important to be led astray by fear and partisan politics. We need to stick to the facts."
Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says there are some clear policy differences between these two candidates and he says there could be some unintended consequences to Wilton’s new strategy.
"If she’s perceived as running a negative campaign, if there starts to be stories that says she running personal attacks on Pearce, and then the Democrats sort of pile on to those stories," said Davis. "That puts her in a more difficult position as the candidate from the minority party in a year in which Democratic candidates at the top of the ballot will do well in Vermont."
Davis says the Republican Super PAC known as Vermonters First has spent roughly $100,000 on a TV ad campaign that features Wilton. Davis says there’s a reason why the Republicans are targeting the Treasurer’s race.
"If Wendy Wilton were elected Treasurer she might very well become the sort of go to person for the Republicans when it comes to holding press conferences criticizing Shumlin Administration initiatives."
Davis says it’s likely that Pearce’s strong fundraising lead over Wilton will be offset by the spending of the Republican Super PAC in this race.