Race For Lieutenant Governor Heats Up With Debate Over Debates

Sep 8, 2014

There’s only one race for statewide office that offers much drama this election season. And the challenger in the race for lieutenant governor is seeking to draw out the incumbent in a series of debates.

The Progressive Party’s Dean Corren is a first-time candidate for statewide office who has so far spent less than $30,000 on his campaign. So, does Corren think average Vermonters know who he is?

Corren has exactly eight weeks not only to build his name recognition, but to convince Vermonters to vote for him in November.

  “I don’t know,” Corren said Monday. “I mean, obviously we don’t have polling and that sort of thing.”

Corren has exactly eight weeks not only to build his name recognition, but to convince Vermonters to vote for him in November. Corren proved last month that he has the attention of the state’s liberal base, when he won the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate.

But even Corren admits he probably has a ways to go if he hopes to unseat Phil Scott, the popular Republican incumbent.

Recent endorsements from the AFL-CIO and the Vermont state workers union will help Corren amass the grassroots base he’ll need to have a chance at upsetting Scott. Corren earlier this summer picked up the endorsement of the Vermont-NEA.

Corren says his core policy proposals – like single-payer health care – appeal to the kinds of working-class voters represented by labor unions. Corren says he also supports legislation to improve the wages of organized workers, as well as laws requiring union members to pay agency fees.

“The growing wealth gap in the nation and the state is alarming, and it’s very bad for the state and it’s very bad for the stability of the economy,” Corren said.

Scott also counts powerful union endorsements, the Professional Firefighters of Vermont and Vermont state troopers union among them. And he’s about to spend $50,000 a series of advertisements – ads he says will focus on the importance of strengthening Vermont’s economy.

“We have a number of different venues that we’re going to hit, from print to radio to TV, so it’s a whole cluster of different media venues,” Scott said Monday.

Scott enjoyed wide margins of victory in his first two races for lieutenant governor. The incumbent doesn’t have any signature policy proposals. Rather he’s selling himself as a coalition-building centrist, who will work to moderate whatever reform proposals come out of a Statehouse dominated by Democrats.

“There are a lot things in play right now that need to be addressed,” Scott said Monday. “And we need to be at the forefront in order to help move that forward, or stop them, one of the two.”

Corren is looking to engage his opponent directly in a series of 10 debates across the state, and sent a letter to Scott last week asking him to commit to that number.

Scott says Corren’s number is too high.

"I certainly don't believe that we need a dozen debates, but I do want to get enough opportunity for Vermonters to re-identify with me and show the differences between myself and my opponent." - Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

“I certainly don’t believe that we need a dozen debates, but I do want to get enough opportunity for Vermonters to re-identify with me and show the differences between myself and my opponent,” Scott said.

The candidates look to be on equal footing financially, though they filled their campaign war chests in very different ways.

Corren qualified for public financing, and will get a total of $200,000 in public money to support his bid. Scott is raising money from individuals and businesses, and has collected $162,000 in contributions thus far.

Having secured the Democratic nomination, Corren will ask members of the party’s state committee on Sept. 20 for their formal endorsement. It will ultimately be up to a small group of party powerbrokers to decide whether Corren gets access to the organization’s coveted resources, like the voter database – an incredibly valuable political tool that would allow Corren’s campaign to target its campaign resources more effectively.

Corren says conversations with the Democratic Party are going well. Over the weekend, Corren says he attended a grand opening of the VDP field office in Rutland. He says Democrats are making him feel like one of their own.

“It was quiet an event and [Gov. Peter Shumlin] was effusive, very effusive in his support, for which I am very grateful,” Corren said. “And it was great to see my signs there, along with [the five other Democratic candidates for statewide office], and my photo on the wall with everyone else’s.”