According to a new VPR Poll, David Zuckerman, the Progressive-Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, holds a double-digit lead over his Republican opponent Randy Brock.
The VPR Poll, conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute, shows Zuckerman leading Brock, 43 percent to 26 percent among likely voters.
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But with 20 percent still undecided, there are many voters in this contest who could help determine the outcome.
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Dawn Rollins lives in Barre. She is a strong supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sanders' endorsement of Zuckerman was a key factor in her decision to support Zuckerman.
“If he says that he is endorsing someone, I tend to follow what he would say,” Rollins says. “Because I know what Bernie stands for and I know that Bernie isn't going to support somebody that he really really can't stand behind."
But Dart Everett of Brattleboro has a very different point of view.
He thinks the Progressives and the Democrats have been systemically undermining Vermont's economy by supporting excessive taxation and spending initiatives.
“My main thought is we don't need any more progressives running our government. We're in bad enough shape in this state now without any more Shumlin-like ideas,” Everett says. “Randy's a very good, honest, deep-thinking person who believes that we got to change course to get our state back into a financial footing that we can sustain."
These contrasting views of the lieutenant governor's race highlight the fundamental differences in the candidates' backgrounds and positions.
Longtime Progressive David Zuckerman was the winner of a three-way race for the Democratic primary in August. Previously, he served in the Vermont House for 14 years and has been elected to two terms in the Senate.
His Republican opponent, Randy Brock, served as auditor for one term, was elected to two terms in the Senate from Franklin County and was the unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2012.
Zuckerman supports a publicly-financed health care system, a more progressive tax code where the wealthy pay more taxes, a higher minimum wage and the legalization of marijuana.
Brock favors a private health insurance model that has more competition, opposes any tax increases, thinks the legalization of marijuana is a huge mistake and believes imposing new wage requirements will hurt many small businesses.
Rich Clark, the director of the Castleton Polling Institute, says the poll shows that Zuckerman has very strong support with voters under the age of 44 — support that is likely boosted by an early endorsement from Bernie Sanders.
“He is getting a lot of young voters, he's getting a lot of Progressives,” Clark says. “The Sanders support, I think, may have been helping him."
Clark notes that Brock's crossover appeal to Democrats is lower than that of GOP gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott, because Brock represents a more conservative wing of the Party.
“As close as they are on issues, they do tend to represent different aspects of the Republican Party here in Vermont,” Clark says.
The poll finds Zuckerman leading Brock in all income groups, with his strongest support coming from voters with incomes under $40,000. In this category, he enjoys almost a 30-point lead.
The race is quite close in the next income category — those making between $40,000 and $60,000 dollars a year. Here Zuckerman has a four-point lead.
And in the highest income group, people with incomes above $100,000, Zuckerman maintains almost a 20-point lead.
Clark says Zuckerman is also doing very well with voters who are following this race closely.
“The better-educated, the better-informed tend to show up to vote, and Brock's support drops off as familiarity increases,” Clark says. “So among those who say they are very familiar with the candidates … just beneath two-thirds are going for Zuckerman over Brock."
The poll also shows that 20 percent of all voters remain undecided in this race, and the number of uncommitted voters is even higher in specific demographic groups. For instance, 27 percent of middle-income voters are uncertain who they will vote for.
If Brock is going to win this race, he will need to find a winning message to appeal to this large block of undecided voters in the final weeks of the campaign.
The VPR Polls are made possible in part by the VPR Journalism Fund.