By KIT NORTON
With no contested primaries on Tuesday, the lieutenant governor’s race has been overshadowed by those seeking the top job, but behind the scenes the two major candidates have beefed up their political war chests.
The results from Tuesday’s primary had incumbent Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman of Hinesburg with 84.6 percent of the 70,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary, while Republican Don Turner of Milton received 76.4 percent of the 37,000 Republican ballots in the unopposed contests. Zuckerman, a Progressive, also runs under the Democratic Party label.
Rich Clark, a political science professor at Castleton University, said without polling data it’s hard to gauge the public’s interest in the lieutenant governor’s race. However, he said campaign fundraising efforts by the gubernatorial candidates may have a negative effect on the candidates seeking the No. 2 spot.
“People will put the money where they think it has the biggest impact, and I don’t think a lot of people are going to put it in the lieutenant gubernatorial race,” Clark said.
So far Turner holds the edge over Zuckerman in fundraising, with the most recent campaign filings showing the former House minority leader has raised just over $61,000 in the last campaign period and $109,600 in total coming from 177 contributors. Of that money, Turner has spent almost $32,000, leaving him with about $77,000.
Almost all of the donations to Turner’s campaign in the most recent filing period have come from Vermont residents and businesses, with the majority giving the campaign donations more than $100.
Contributors to Turner’s campaign include Skip Vallee, owner of the fuel delivery company RL Vallee, and Lenore Broughton, who has a history of funding conservative candidates. Members of the Vallee family, along with the company RL Vallee Inc., gave a combined $16,000 to Turner — 15 percent of the campaign’s total — while Broughton gave the maximum possible contribution of $4,080.
John Casella, the CEO of the Rutland-based recycling and waste management firm Casella Waste Systems, gave $2,000 to Turner as a private citizen, and gave another $2,000 through his company.
Walter Freed, the former speaker of the Vermont House, gave Turner $250 and Jack McMullen, a Republican businessman who has run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate and Vermont attorney general, contributed $600.
Turner said that he expects the race to be competitive and said his fundraising success reflects the faith Vermonters have in his ability to win the election in November.
“It’s very difficult to beat an incumbent in Vermont, and I have worked extremely hard to make my case to people who are interested in investing in my campaign,” Turner said, “I am going to take investments from people who believe in me and my ability to win this position.”
Zuckerman said Republicans have been focused on the lieutenant governor’s race for months and that Turner’s strong fundraising numbers demonstrate the importance they are placing on winning the post.
“Republicans have made it clear they have two targets in this election — Speaker of the House (Mitzi) Johnson and me. And in the monied world of Republicans, it’s clear he has a lot of support,” Zuckerman said of Turner, “but I have faith that the everyday person still supports me and if you look at the number of donors I think it’s obvious it indicates a real difference in who support in the state is for.”
Zuckerman’s campaign finances are in stark contrast to Turner’s. While the Zuckerman campaign has received money from 659 contributors, it has only raised approximately $75,000 in total, about $25,000 in this last campaign period.
Zuckerman has spent about $41,000, leaving $34,000 in the bank. He also has an additional $12,000 from his 2016 campaign.
Zuckerman’s campaign finance disclosures are devoid of maximum possible contributions, with the highest financial amount coming from the DRIVE Committee, the Teamsters union political action arm, which gave Zuckerman $2,000. The campaign received two other contributions of more than $1,000, one coming from a cousin of Zuckerman.
His fundraising trails the pace set in 2016. In the same campaign period two years ago, Zuckerman raised more than double the amount he has this year, but the campaign said it isn’t concerned, noting that Zuckerman faced a tough primary in 2016.
Martha Abbott, finance director for the Zuckerman campaign, said the lack of a primary has meant slow going so far with fundraising: “This year, it’s been, well you don’t have any opponents, so people are saying, ‘we aren’t going to give you money’.”
But, Abbott said she expects more people will be paying attention to the Zuckerman-Turner race although the campaign still will need to compete for voters’ attention.
“People will pay attention now that there is a contest, and yes, people will be interested in the gubernatorial race, so there’s that, and people are very fired up about the national congressional races,” she said.
Turner acknowledges that unseating even a one-term incumbent can be difficult in Vermont. “I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I wanted to give Vermonters a choice for lieutenant governor in November,” he said.