The Vermont Republican party has a mystery man.
Or perhaps a mystery woman.
And who is this mystery person?
It’s a mystery. Were he (or maybe even she) to be identified, it would no longer be a mystery, would it now?
So we have here a classic case in which those who will discuss the matter don’t know, whereas those who do know (assuming they exist) refuse to discuss the matter.
But whoever this mystery person is, he or she will be the Republican candidate for governor this year.
So say some Republicans who ought to know, most specifically Rep. Don Turner of Milton, the minority leader of the House of Representatives.
Asked if he was worried that no Republican has yet come forward to run for governor, Turner said he “would be if there weren’t somebody coming along to run.”
Turner said he did not know who that “somebody” might be, but that “the party people” had assured him that there was a person who had not simply expressed interest but who had made a commitment to run for governor.
The “party people” weren’t talking, or at least not saying much.
State Chairman David Sunderland declined (via email) to “confirm or deny anyone’s interest in running for any public office,” adding that he was “confident that Vermont Republicans will field a strong slate of candidates.”
Like Turner, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who repeated that his plan to is run for re-election, said he understood someone was running, but his version left open the possibility that there was more than one mystery person. But he also said he had been informed that “there will be a candidate” for governor on the Republican line.
A slightly different account came from party Treasurer Mark Snelling, who said “several people” are still considering the race, and acknowledged that he was one of them.
But even if Turner was the only one willing to say so in plain language, there did seem to be an understanding among several Republicans that one potential contender had made something closer to a firm commitment than the others.
Both Turner and Scott (and a few other Republicans who didn’t want to be identified) suggested that the mystery person does not now hold public office, and is more likely a business person. But that, they said, is all they know.
The mystery, then, remains, and with it a question.
No, two questions. The first, of course, is: Who is it? The second is: Does it matter? Because as certain as it is that there will be a Republican candidate for governor, it is almost as certain that he or she will lose to incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin.
Yeah, yeah, it’s politics. Anything can happen. Beware of predictions. All that stuff. A major Shumlin administration scandal could explode. Or this Republican mystery person could be someone who is already well-known and widely admired, like, say, a Vermonter who stars for the Red Sox but is beloved even by opposing fans and players, sort of a Boston version of Derek Jeter.
Except – have you noticed? – there ain’t no such person.
So in this Democratic state the chances are slim that any Republican is going to give Shumlin much of a race, even in what might be considered an ideal Republican year – no presidential race, neither popular Democratic (or de facto Democratic) senator on the ballot, Shumlin’s image a bit tarnished by the initial technological incompetence of “Vermont Health Care Connect.”
The chances get slimmer because this mystery person who probably comes from the private sector is not likely to be well known. Name recognition can be bought, but it takes both money and time, and time is not waiting for the Republicans and their mystery candidate. For months, Republicans have been assuring themselves and others that it was too early to worry about not having a candidate.
It isn’t any more. And as Scott said, “It’s getting late if the candidate is unknown.”
One possible “mystery person” who is a bit less unknown is Snelling, the son of the late Gov. Richard Snelling and the brother of Chittenden state Sen. Dianne Snelling.
But Richard Snelling died in office in 1991, a long time ago in the context of political memory. Both Snelling and Scott acknowledged that Vermonters rarely unseat incumbent governors, and any Republican would have an uphill battle.
Even more uphill because the Vermont Republican Party remains a troubled institution. Thanks to Sunderland, it is no longer as organizationally dysfunctional as it was a few months ago. Thanks in part to revenue from a fundraising dinner featuring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (then political phenom, now on his way to becoming a political footnote), the Vermont Republicans are no longer broke.
But that still doesn’t make it an effective political apparatus. Otherwise, it would not have undercut its only statewide office-holder and most popular official (Scott) by passing a resolution urging all its candidates to “publicly oppose single payer/government run health care.”
The problem here is that Scott is a “skeptic” but not a firm opponent of Shumlin’s universal health care plan. He said he has discussed with party leaders the wisdom of clearing future resolutions with elected officials. That would include him.
Not that it makes no sense for Vermont Republicans to emulate their nationwide counterparts by stressing their opposition to Democratic health care plans. But like most political strategies, this opportunity comes with a risk. Most polls indicate the federal Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) remains unpopular, and sentiments in Vermont are unlikely to be that different. Change is disconcerting.
In the last week or so, Republicans have gotten help from an unexpected source: the supposedly neutral (if not supposedly liberal) press corps. In Washington, many reporters accepted the Republican assessment that a study by the Congressional Budget Office projected that under the health care law “millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced,” in the the words of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
That’s not what the CBO report said. So informed, some respected Washington journalists replied that the truth was less important than the potential political effectiveness of distorting the truth.
Ah, the joys of living in a decadent society.
Then Vermont’s health care plan was the subject of a very long article in Newsweek (now an online-only publication) which included the assertion that one day last July, Shumlin administration officials got snookered into thinking the Vermont Health Connect website was working well, when in fact it was not.
“People weren’t technologically sophisticated enough to understand what was actually going on,” said the source for this information.
It was the only source, and unnamed, which led some Vermonters – not all of them Democrats – to question whether this tale was entirely kosher.
But assume its accuracy for the nonce. The political implications would seem to be … well, not much. So some public officials were technologically unsophisticated. So are some private officials, or those hackers wouldn’t have been able to break into Target’s system. It’s a new, complicated world. Voters probably understand that.
Especially because both nationally and in Vermont, the websites are now working. People are signing up for health insurance. The websites are not working perfectly. In Vermont, for instance (as the Newsweek article made much of), some people still have to use pen, paper, and the U.S. Postal Service to apply for health insurance.
The horror. The horror.
The danger of putting all your political eggs in one basket is: What happens if the bottom of that basket gets blown full of holes?