The 40-year-old [Morgan] doesn’t come across as a politician of any stripe; he is a soft-spoken spokesman for the third major party in Vermont, and he has the unenviable task of fielding questions on the touchy issue of whether the Progressives are election spoilers rather than a “keep’em honest” corrective to Democratic candidates who are unwilling to take strong positions on issues that matter to the Progressives.
The Progressive Party has been active statewide for only about 10 years, and Daybell, who moved to Vermont in 1999, got involved with the party right away. The Progressives’ mascot – the signature bull moose on the literature and on campaign buttons — harks back to Teddy Roosevelt 100 years ago, but, in fact, the state level Vermont Progressive Party grew out of the “Party of Bernie Sanders,” the Chittenden County/City of Burlington movement of 30 years ago that gave Sanders, who has severed formal ties to the Progressive Party, his start. (Daybell says Sen. Sanders will stump for Progressive candidates with whom he had connections in the past, but he hasn’t been promoting the political careers of young candidates whom the party must depend on for its long-term survival.)
Anthony Pollina is the most prominent Progressive to run for statewide office, and he has been criticized for siphoning votes from the Democratic Party in three recent elections. He ran for governor in 2000 against incumbent Howard Dean, the Democrat, and Ruth Dwyer, the Republican candidate. Pollina won 10 percent of the vote, which wasn’t enough to tip the balance for Dwyer, and Dean won with 50.4 percent of the vote. In 2002, Pollina campaigned for lieutenant governor and garnered 24 percent of the ballots. He ran again in 2008 – this time for governor, again – and tied with Democrat Gaye Symington. Together, they trailed the tally for Jim Douglas by 30,000 ballots, making Douglas the sure winner — even if Pollina had not run.
Last June, in an interview with Peter Hirschfeld of the Vermont Press Bureau about the field of Democratic candidates for governor (already up to three at that point), Daybell said, “Obviously, a two-person contest is better.” He went on to say, “In 2007 and 2008, Pollina’s attempts to reach out to Democrats was all part of a strategy to make it a two-way race in the absence of any strong Democratic candidate willing to run. How that plays out in 2010, I don’t know yet.”
Questions regarding the role the Progressives will play in this election cycle still hang in the air. Will Pollina run again, making the pre-primary campaign for governor a seven-way race? And now that Rep. David Zuckerman has dropped out of the lieutenant governor’s race, who will the Progressive contenders be for that seat and other statewide offices?