Vermont comes with a level of access to state government that I've not seen in other states. When I lived in Rhode Island, I occasionally had very brief and fleeting interactions with legislators and politicians. The night Clinton got elected President, I got to meet now Senator Jack Reed in an elevator and tell him how much I admired and respected him. That's about as much as you get.
Vermont's a bit different. This season, I've had extended conversations with Peter Shumlin and Matt Dunne. Last year, I talked with Doug Racine and Floyd Nease at length at our blogger summit. When I criticized Challenges for Change a few months ago, I got an e-mail from speaker Smith.
This is so outside of the realm of what I tend to expect, but this access has left me in the position of not just choosing between abstracts and figures who give speeches but choosing between people with whom I've had extended conversations and have a bit of admiration and respect for.
I will say that I wish I'd had this opportunity with Markowitz, and because I've never met the woman and never had a chance to see how she interacts when I challenge her directly, I don't have a read on her and I just don't feel confident supporting her at this point. I truly respect that she may end up making an excellent governor and I'm open to that. If she wins the nomination, she has my full support.
But I'm not going to talk further about her here because I'm not writing about the abstracts. I'm writing about what I know best: what I've seen directly and witnessed with my eyes.
So, between the three candidates with whom I've had extended conversations, who are Shumlin, Racine and Dunne and why I'm having so much trouble choosing:
With respect to fund raising, this is Racine's weakest point by far, and honestly it concerns me. Dunne's powerful fund raising machine has actually shocked me in terms of its abilities, and I think that can be turned to great advantage in the general. Shumlin is just very, very good at talking to people, interacting with them and getting them to support him. In Dunne's case, I think it's superior organization that's leading to strong fund raising. In Shumlin's, I think it's primarily just force of personality.
I first met Doug Racine at a poverty forum. It was a fairly amazing experience and gave me great confidence in his ability to govern and lead on issues that are extremely important to me. If Racine becomes our nominee, I'd have no concern whatsoever advocating for him. I am also deeply respectful of his willingness to be open and direct about the tough choices in ways I don't see other candidates (save for Bartlett) doing. That makes me lean in his direction in a major way. Whereas Shumlin is extremely optimistic about how we can get things done (and I do think he's got some good ideas), I get the sense from him that he's more big picture and grand idea than small detail. I don't see that as a problem as much as it just doesn't make me as enthusiastic.
My biggest concern with Racine, aside from the money issue, is one that is hopelessly vague: when I see him at events this year (and I haven't gone to many) I don't get the feeling that he's enthusiastic about them. But I've only seen him at a few forums this year, and maybe I just caught him on off days, but it makes me worry that he's not excited about this race. From Shumlin and Dunne I see excitement. From Racine I see a great deal of confidence and ability, but not as much enthusiasm. This makes me think he'd make a great governor but I'm not convinced he'd make a great candidate in the general election.
My biggest concern with Shumlin is an echo of what I wrote before. When I met with him briefly a few weeks ago, he asked if I liked his ad on early education. I said "no." He wanted to know why and we talked about it a bit. My biggest concern was that I didn't get the sense that the ads focus on universal preK might end up causing child care providers to think they were putting him out of business. Peter reacted with surprise at my reaction, and I got the sense that he got it but I also felt kind of dismissed, as though what he said was more to placate me and he didn't remember what his ad actually said. That particular issue makes me question his depth of understanding. Like I said, I think he's big picture guy, but I'm fine tooth comb detail girl, so that's important to me.
But that said, I think Shumlin's charisma is phenomenal, and just having a conversation with the guy, I want to support him, and that psychology and charisma goes a long way in an election. So my support for him is the flip of that of Racine: I think he'd make a stronger candidate but I don't know that he'd make as good a governor.
Which brings us to Matt Dunne.
Watching Matt for me is like watching a time lapse video of several years over the course of a matter of minutes. When I look at the difference between how he did at the forum I live blogged last month (he did well, but not spectacularly well) and the depth and detail of what I've seen since, I'm extremely impressed. I like Matt. He's personable and he has charisma. My biggest concern about him is what I would have loved about him twenty years ago: his idealism. He talks about technological innovation, which I think is important, but he talks about it as though it's a cure-all. I've been fairly heavily involved in "technological innovation" at the state level. It sounds great on paper, but easily turns into bloated, expensive, waste, much of which is spent out of state and ends up costing us far more than we expect it to. So this concerns me and I worry about this. But from the campaign point of view, what Matt lacks in the over the top personality that Shumlin has, he makes up for in spades with a fund raising apparatus that's formidable.
So that's it. I haven't decided yet. I like them all. I like different things about them and have different concerns about each of them. But none of these concerns are major. They're more "well, ideally what I'd like is..." I mean, ideally, I'd like my next car to have keyless entry but it's not like I'd pass on a great vehicle just because it didn't.
And that's it for me: Dunne, Shumlin, Racine: these are people I would trust to be governor and do a good, possibly great, job at it. These are people I think could wage a serious effort against Brian Dubie and have a very strong shot at beating him. And maybe that's the problem: it's not that the candidates have weaknesses but that the choices are so good this time around that I have to focus on the weaknesses to differentiate between them.
So yeah, I still haven't made up my mind.
Anyone want to take a stab at convincing me?