Democratic Candidates For Governor Highlight Ties To Sanders In Primary Contest

Jul 15, 2016

All three Democratic candidates for governor are highlighting their ties to the political agenda of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Here's a look at how and why these candidates are trying to appeal to Sanders' supporters in Vermont.

Matt Dunne

Former State Senator Matt Dunne is making the most direct pitch to these voters. In a recent TV ad, he gets right to the point.

"Bernie Sanders has started something amazing and I'm running for governor to make his vision a reality right here in Vermont," says Dunne in the ad.

And Dunne mirrors Sanders' language about the need to launch a political movement to transform politics in Vermont.

"Bernie will be the first to tell you that it's not about one person running for president, that it's a movement. And it's a movement that started here in Vermont, and I believe needs to continue here in Vermont," Dunne says. "The country looks to Vermont to be the conscience of our country and we have an opportunity to live up to that standard."

Peter Galbriath

Peter Galbraith, a former state senator, bristles at the thought that Matt Dunne is the candidate who is most closely affiliated with Sanders' agenda.

"I was the first candidate to be coming out for a higher minimum wage — for the $15," Galbraith says. "I'm the only one who is talking about getting rid of special interest tax breaks. I'm the only one who says that we ought to make tuition free for all four years at our state colleges. So mine is the agenda that Bernie Sanders is proposing."

Sue Minter

Former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter says Sanders' presidential bid has definitely had an impact on her campaign for governor.

"I think Bernie's campaign has had an impact and a very important and positive one across the country, raising issues that I know are very important to Vermonters," Minter says. "And I am incredibly proud about how he has literally changed the conversation around what Democrats are pushing for. I believe it has helped our campaigns here in Vermont focus on those issues as well."

Why are the candidates so eager to win the backing of Sanders' supporters?

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says it's simple math.

Davis is expecting a relatively low turnout for the Democratic gubernatorial primary, perhaps a total of 50,000 people. He notes that traditionally, people voting in the Democratic primary are considerably more liberal than most general election voters. Davis says this makes the Sanders constituency a very important group in the primary.

"I think it is in the sense that Bernie Sanders is very popular in Vermont," Davis says. "So yes, if there are a lot of progressive-minded voters in the Democratic primary, you want to appeal to those voters because they are people who are more interested in politics, perhaps and more likely to vote in the primary."

"Bernie Sanders is very popular in Vermont. So ... if there are a lot of progressive-minded voters in the Democratic primary you want to appeal to those voters, because they are people who are ... more likely to vote in the primary." — Eric Davis, retired Middlebury College professor

But Davis says appealing to this group of voters poses a challenge for these Democratic candidates. That's because he says issue positions that are popular with primary voters might not be as popular with general election voters.

"Saying enough to appeal to progressive-minded voters to win the primary without opening up lines of attack that a Republican candidate can use in the general election with voters who are more in the center of the political spectrum," Davis explained.

Davis says the projection for a low-voter turnout also means that these campaigns will need to use a fair amount of their financial resources to identify potential supporters and to encourage these people to cast their ballots now using the early voting system.