Thursday November 8, 2012

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Vermont was once again on Tuesday the first state to be called in favor of President Barack Obama. The state has long been viewed as a Democratic bastion, but if anyone had doubts about where Bennington and Bennington County fit in, that has become quite clear.

Based on the numbers, Bennington and the county are becoming more Democratic. This year, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin beat Republican Randy Brock 4,339 votes to 1,423, about a 3 to 1 margin. Two years ago, Shumlin was only able to squeak out a victory statewide and countywide over former Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.

Popular Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who cruised to victory over Democratic Challenger Cassandra Gekas statewide, lost in Bennington. Gekas, a relatively unknown candidate in the area, bested Scott by 1,000 votes.

State GOP Chairman Jack Lindley said Gekas' showing in Tuesday's election indicates how far ahead the Democratic Party is with its organization. "A relatively unknown person was able to get 40 percent of the vote," Lindley said. "It's because my friends on the other side of the aisle have done a marvelous job."

Democrats "have become the default party" in Vermont, Lindley said. Most voters are voting on a straight Democratic line. "We need to do some significant re-branding. We need some new candidates, which we have. We have nowhere to go but up," he said. "The good news is the party is solvent and we have the resources to work on a re-invigorated party."

In Bennington, where Democrats reigned on Tuesday, Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran cautioned that party affiliation alone does not tell the whole story. "Just because it's Democratic doesn't mean it's liberal. There's conservative Democrats, liberal Democrats," Corcoran said.

Still, it has become clear in the last several elections that Bennington is trending more Democratic. "You've got to throw it in the hopper. If you look at North Bennington's results, it's pretty clear that there's more that tend to be Democratic than Republican," he said.

The shift began to emerge during the tenure of former Republican Gov. James Douglas. "When Douglas was elected governor, he either lost or tied in Bennington. It was never a real clear victory for him," Corcoran said.

Politics works in cycles, Corcoran said, and will likely trend against Democrats someday. Not any time soon, though. "It takes a long time to get there. I can remember when the state of Vermont would vote for George Herbert Walker Bush and Ronald Reagan carried Vermont," he said.

The 2012 race also raised questions about the effectiveness of super PACs in Vermont. Vermonters First, a Super PAC funded by Burlington resident Lenore Broughton, invested heavily in Republican state treasurer candidate Wendy Wilton. But Wilton, who was expected to have a tight race against incumbent Democrat Beth Pearce, lost by a sizable margin.

Lindley said he did not believe the election result was tied to Vermonters rejecting Super PAC involvement in Vermont.

"I find it hard to believe there was a huge backlash. Did it make any impact for the Republican Party? That's a question that's open. Some analysis needs to be done," he said. "Vermonters are pretty careful about figuring out who's doing what to whom."

Still, Lindley said he'd rather see the state's political parties organize and fund campaigns, rather than outside groups.

"I am not, and I can underline that; I am not a great supporter or purveyor of political action committees," he said. "In my judgment they are not healthy, but the law says they cannot exist."