July 3rd, 2006

Dead Governors to Sleep with Fishes?

by Philip Baruth

As regular Politics VT readers know, each of that site’s anonymous operators has adopted the handle of a long-dead Vermont politico. Maddening at times, yes, but the names have also given the site a certain real flair.

Hence, VDB’s collective nickname: The Dead Governors.

Only one thing is certain with regard to The Capitol Bureau’s collective identities: the Governors have managed to piss off the Right and the Left with almost precisely equal frequency — suggesting that their coverage hovers somewhere in the middle of the ideological spectrum.

The most recent piss-ee? The campaign of Mark Shepard.

Politics VT has been running an informal series of reader’s polls for the last year or so, quizzing political junkies on candidates, issues, etc. Their last such poll finished up on Friday, and drew on a pool of more than 500 participants.

Not too shabby. Read their results in full here.

But rather than treat the poll with the casual interest that any self-selecting internet vote deserves, the Shepard campaign apparently went ripshit.

Even wicked ripshit, as they say in Fall River.

Campaign manager Paul Cook posted an indignant comment at the site, but then — clearly unsatisfied — delivered a blunter message by email:

“I have just posted a comment on your site regarding the readers poll. I just want to be sure that the message gets through to you clearly.

“Publishing unscientific polls without a disclaimer is a clear violation of public polling ethics. Like a push poll, the results of a readers poll can be misleading to the public unless it is clearly stated the poll is unscientific and has no predictive value for the attitudes or beliefs of the general public.”

Now, as VDB hinted above, online polls are unscientific by definition — by their very nature. Demanding a disclaimer seems more than a bit silly, like asking Monopoly to include a warning that its money is not, in fact, legal tender.

But a disclaimer is what Cook demands, and if he doesn’t get it — well, that’s when the horse head drops into the picture:

“If this poll were to be picked up by a mainstream media outlet, the result would surely be embarrassment for you when we challenge the scientific validity of the results, as we most assuredly will.

“Do yourselves a favor and fix this. Put a disclaimer at the beginning of the post.”

Do yourselves a favor. The undertone is pretty heavy here, but the threat itself remains amorphous. What can you really threaten the Dead Governors with, after all — additional death?

Still, VDB has long been a sucker for Cosa Nostra themes and slang and epics. We’ve watched enough Godfather and Sopranos episodes to pick up that subtle sub-text: No disclaimer, and the Governors will be sleeping with the fishes.

But all of this bluster disguises the real question. Why is the Shepard camp so upset about the Politics VT poll? Is it the take-away numbers, Welch up 52.4/47.9% against Rainville, or 52.9/22% against Shepard?

Clearly, that doesn’t help Shepard in the run-up to the primary, but still those numbers couldn’t have come as much of a shock.

No, the real reason lies buried a bit deeper, in this fascinating nugget:

“Shepard is focusing on a key issue, and we quizzed people on what that issue was:

36.7% said his primary focus in the primary was Gay Marriage. 36.2% said Shepard’s focus was on Vermont pocket-book issues such as taxes, the economy and family. 15.2% said that Shepard was focusing on abortion issues, 5.7% was on taxes and 6.2% was on jobs” [emphasis VDB’s].

Ah, now it all comes clear: what the poll demonstrates is that the poll’s respondents have been more struck by Shepard’s views on gay marriage — which he’s tried assiduously to downplay — than they have been by the issues he’s actively pushed.

Not a good look-out for a candidate well out of the mainstream of Vermont political thought, a guy looking to run to Center.

One other quick thought: by and large the mainstream media have ignored Shepard’s candidacy, and when they have reported on it, they’ve generally ignored his submerged views on gay rights.

As far as we can tell, our April 13th sit-down with Rainville’s challenger — “The Initially Amusing, Unexpectedly Queasy Interview with Mark Shepard” — remains the only piece out there detailing the man’s conservative social positions.

Can it be? Has VDB then almost single-handedly derailed Shepard’s Conservative in Moderate’s Clothing strategy?

We have no idea. But we’re more than willing to believe it, until the very last moment of the day we die. And as for the Governors — VDB offers all of you its protection.

[Fade up Nino Rota’s “Speak Softly Love” from Godfathers I, II, and of course, the painfully disappointing III.]

Late Update, July 3rd, 3:17 pm:

Of course it was too good to be true. Only a few hours after posting the above, an alert reader pointed us to Bennington Banner writer Neal Goswami, and his far-reaching June 12th interview with Shepard. Goswami also has Shepard executing a modified Santorum maneuver, i.e., civil unions lead straight to polygamy and God Knows What (cats, dogs, ferrets).

But of course there’s no shame in being one of a small handful of people who tumble to the truth about a candidate. The only shame would be if no one did.

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