BURLINGTON — With only days left until the election, Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor waved at motorists along a busy street in South Burlington, hoping the friendly gesture might win over even a few of the area’s liberal-leaning voters.
Chittenden County is the most populous in Vermont. At an estimated 161,382 residents, the region holds about a quarter of the state’s population and offers candidates more potential voters than any other area.
But it also leans to the left side of the political spectrum.
So perhaps it’s a surprise that this week two top Republican candidates — stock car driver and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and former state auditor Randy Brock — stood along Williston Road, a stone’s throw from downtown Burlington, to hold signs and talk to anyone interested in discussing the issues that matter to them.
Of the two candidates, only Scott is leading his opponent in the most recent polls. Last week’s WCAX poll gave the current lieutenant governor a seven-point advantage over Democratic opponent Sue Minter.
But on the issues, both right-leaning candidates have to find the correct balance if they hope to sway Chittenden County’s left-leaning residents.
“I don’t think she [Minter] said she would veto a carbon tax,” Scott said, referring to a proposed $500 million tax slated for debate in the upcoming legislative session. A carbon tax could add about 88 cents to every gallon of gas and another $1.02 to a gallon of diesel or home heating oil.
Liberals in Burlington might like the idea of punishing fossil-fuel distributors, but Scott, who has pledged to veto a carbon tax, is betting that anything that raises the cost of driving cars and warming homes in icy cold Vermont is a losing issue, in even the most liberal areas of the state.
Brock, a 72-year-old resident of Swanton, a town about 45 minutes due north from where he was waving at cars, appealed to two other values generally shared by Democrats and liberals: saving the planet and opposing oppressive corporations.
“I am concerned that we are destroying the environment in order to save it,” Brock said of Vermont’s current Big Renewables energy policy.
“I believe that we are engaged in a process that I call ‘Robin Hood in reverse,’ in which we reward wealthy, well connected renewable energy developers at the expense of the middle class.”
Both candidates expressed confidence in a smooth and fair election, despite nationwide talk of hacked elections and fraud stoked this week by state and federal election officials.
Brock, who has a background as a certified fraud investigator, said candidates in Vermont typically wouldn’t need to request a recount unless obvious anomalies surfaced between present vote tallies and numbers from past elections.
“If the percentage of votes in a particular district differs materially from the voting patterns of the past, or for voting percentages in other districts, that would make it unusual,” he said. “That would be one thing that would be an alert.”
Even in that case, Brock said candidates wouldn’t necessarily need to ask for a recount, but instead ask the secretary of state to investigate a suspicious district.
“Recounts are time consuming, they are very expensive, and they are very labor intensive,” said Brock, who went through a statewide recount in 2006. “I certainly wouldn’t call for that unless there was enough evidence either anecdotal, either testamentary, or based on statistics that would warrant it.”
Scott, however, said some election outcomes are so close that calling for a recount makes sense.
“Obviously if the results are very, very close, within the margin of small error, we could ask for a recount,” he said. “Or they could ask for a recount. It could be justifiable. We’ll see what happens on Tuesday.”