Anthony Pollina of Middlesex has announced his intention to run for governor next year, beating prospective Democratic candidates to the punch and also, he hopes, beating the Democrats to the money jar.
Pollina's announcement was not absolute. His decision seemed to be conditioned on the ability of the Progressive Party to forge a workable alliance with the Democrats and to get a good head start in raising funds for the race.
With Pollina running, the prospects grow dimmer for Democrats considering a race against Gov. James Douglas. These include Matt Dunne, the former state senator and candidate for lieutenant governor, Sen. John Campbell of Windsor County, and Peter Galbraith, the former ambassador who now resides in Windham County.
Pollina and other Progressives reject the label of spoiler, which is the role in which they find themselves when they siphon votes away from Democrats and help to win elections for Republicans. Pollina played that role in 2002 when Republican Brian Dubie defeated Democrat Peter Shumlin and Pollina in the race for lieutenant governor. Ralph Nader, famously, played that role in the presidential race of 2000. Who would want to be called a spoiler after that debacle?
Pollina's early announcement was a form of preemptive strike. He can be assured of a sizable minority of votes, making a victory for any Democrat against the popular Douglas all the harder to achieve.
Pollina and the Progressives have nothing to lose by mounting such a campaign. By running he continues to affirm the role of the Progressive Party in Vermont politics. Even if he wins only 20 percent of the vote, that's more than zero. If he loses, he has not derailed his political ambitions because he has no ambition except to run and to advocate Progressive views. Of course, he would intend to win, but winning would be a bonus.
Dunne and other Democrats would have something to lose. Dunne did not succeed in unseating Dubie in 2006, but he showed that he is a candidate with ability, energy and vision, whose prospects for success in statewide politics are still alive. A second defeat, caused by the presence of Pollina in the race, might doom those prospects.
So Pollina is well positioned to mount an energetic challenge against Douglas, even if the election of a Progressive as governor must be considered a long shot at best.
Douglas continues to test the patience of the liberal electorate of Vermont, though there is no sign yet that erosion of support among the moderate middle has become a serious threat. His lack of leadership on energy and climate issues remains a source of contention. The Bobby Sand controversy is likely to rile up voters on the left, though moderates may be less concerned. Sand is the Windsor County state's attorney, and he sparked controversy recently when he directed the case of a lawyer and part-time judge facing marijuana charges to diversion. In response Douglas ordered state police to send major marijuana cases to the attorney general or the U.S. attorney rather than to Sand.
As a candidate Pollina would have a good time with these issues, but more importantly, he will raise many issues that other candidates don't – and which deserve to be raised. On his daily radio show on WDEV, Pollina has amped up the drumbeat on his signature issues: Economic fairness and the squeezing of the middle class, the litany of government intrusions, a failure to plan for our energy future, support for small-scale agriculture, the costly war in Iraq. Whether this is driven by political calculation or genuine frustration, Pollina's populist message for change is certain to resonate with Vermonters. Whether it's enough to unseat Douglas, that remains to be seen.
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