So I ran into State Representative David Zuckerman the other day at a UVM United Academics Union rally at the University of Vermont. And all the bullhorns and sign-waving got me in the political mood, so I decided to just ask him flat-out: You running for Congress?
Why is this important, if you’re reading this in Tijuana or Biloxi?
Well, in Vermont the Center-Left makes up about 60% of the vote, with Democrats and Progressives jockeying over who best represents that liberal two-thirds of the state. In a good cycle, we manage to settle down and field one candidate — Progressive Bernie Sanders has usually run without Democratic opposition, a key to his success nationally. And Progressives traditionally limited their influence to Chittenden County, the state’s most liberal terrritory, a key to Howard Dean’s rise.
But some years back Progressives took their party state-wide — a very logical move based on healthy growth in their tallies — and ever since the Center-Left has been shooting itself in the femur on a regular basis.
Hence, our current Republican Governor and Lt. Governor.
So now Bernie has decided to jump to the Senate seat being vacated by Jim Jeffords (remember him?), leaving a House seat open. Immediately, Peter Welch — a left-leaning Democrat — threw his hat in the ring, with broad support from not only the Democratic establishment, but from Bernie himself. The GOP candidate most often mentioned is Martha Rainville, Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard, a pro-Choice female General. Hardly a push-over.
So the question has become: Will a Progressive enter the race, split the 60% down the middle and throw Bernie’s very reliable liberal seat to the Republicans?
My answer, after my chat with Zuckerman: I don’t think so.
Zuckerman is a very nice guy, and he clearly wants to run, but my aggregate sense of the conversation was that he’ll pull back at the last minute. Now, understand, he never said this flat-out; but he did talk about waiting until late January to make a decision (a cripplingly late start, in a state where media plays a relatively low-key role), and at one point he referred a little wistfully to the current proto-campaign as one designed to “raise issues” that wouldn’t otherwise be on the table — the sort of thing you expect from someone who more or less knows he’s not going to pull the trigger. Finally, he talked a lot about the decision being based on whether or not he feels support around the state, monetary and otherwise. None of this had the ring of finality you’d associate with a serious candidate for Congress with less than a year to go before Election Day.
My best read: If Zuckerman had Bernie’s endorsement, he’d run. Or if Bernie had agreed to stay neutral, he’d run. But Zuckerman’s best argument — that Welch is not a liberal but a corporate stooge — now directly implicates Bernie. Still, Zuckerman clearly wants to use the run-up to the election (the next two or three months, in any event) to position himself as the Progressive Party’s post-Pollina standard-bearer. I could be wrong — I called 2004 for Kerry — but VDB says Zuckerman ultimately takes a pass.
A final note: David Zuckerman is a very nice guy, and clearly he has a future in state politics. But over and over again he made the argument that if Center-Left voters go Democratic, they’re “voting their fears.” Voting Progressive, on the other hand, always constitutes “voting for what they want.” At this stage of the game, that’s not logical and it’s not even good political strategy — it’s just demagoguery.
David, you can do better than that — and let me know if you think the 4 to 1 odds need tweaking.
But until I hear otherwise, I say it’s Welch v. Rainville, and Welch wins it in a horrible squeaker.