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Poll: Scott leads Zuckerman, 2-1, in Vermont governor’s race

Published: 9/23/2020 10:03:56 PM
Modified: 9/23/2020 10:03:51 PM

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott maintains a more than 2-to-1 lead over Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman in Vermont’s gubernatorial race, while Democrat Molly Gray and Republican Scott Milne are in a tight battle for lieutenant governor with a large chunk of voters undecided, according to a Vermont Public Radio/Vermont PBS poll.

The poll, released Tuesday, shows Scott, the two-term incumbent Republican, with the support of 55% of Vermonters and Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat, with 24%. It reported 16% are undecided with six weeks until the Nov. 3 general election.

The poll surveyed 604 Vermonters between Sept. 3 and Sept. 15, and has a 4% margin of error.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Gray, an assistant attorney general, leads with 35%, but Milne, a businessman, is close behind at 31%. Chris Ericson, the Progressive candidate in the race has 4%. But many voters — 24% — say they’re still not sure who they will vote for.

The poll shows Scott with a 68% approval rating, which comes after a poll in August found that 83% of Vermonters approve of the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Democratic U.S. Sen Patrick Leahy’s approval sits at 56% while independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ is at 61% and Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch’s is at 57%, according to the poll.

In a hypothetical U.S. Senate race, Scott outpaced Leahy — 41% to 38%. Another 15% were undecided, and 7% said they’d support neither candidate.

Only 30% of Vermonters approve of President Donald Trump, according to the poll, while 64% say they disapprove. Of those surveyed, 32% said they are voting for Trump while 56% said they support Democrat Joe Biden.

In the governor’s race, Rich Clark, a professor of political science at Castleton University who directed the VPR/Vermont PBS poll, said that Scott’s large lead can be attributed to his management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I mean think about when Shumlin did best — it was right after Irene,” Clark said referring to Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and Tropical Storm Irene, which hit Vermont 2011.

“We reward governors for their steady leadership during times of crisis,” he said.

But he said that Zuckerman could benefit from the high Democratic turnout and voter participation that’s expected this fall, when Trump is on the ballot. Clark said that the voters who are “motivated to keep Democrats in power in Vermont and send Democrats to D.C. will more likely default to Zuckerman.”

“Nothing’s a done deal,” Clark added.

The poll shows Scott has more support from Democrats than Zuckerman. While 48% of Democrats said they would vote for Scott, only 41% said they would vote for the lieutenant governor. Of Republicans surveyed, 69% said they would vote for Scott, while 3% said they would support Zuckerman.

Zuckerman said Tuesday that there’s “no doubt” he has “a lot of work to do” to unseat Scott.

But he said that many Vermonters haven’t been paying attention to the governor’s race and have been paying more attention to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zuckerman said that in the coming weeks, he will have an opportunity to reach more voters, pointing to a series of debates with Scott, and television ads he put on the air last weekend. He also pointed out that those ads hit the airwaves after the poll was conducted.

“I think many of the folks polled are primarily focused on Covid. And as Democrats are reminded that on issue after issue he has vetoed their priorities, I think there’s room for growth,” Zuckerman said, referring to the governor.

Asked about the VPR/Vermont PBS survey during his press conference on Tuesday, Scott said that while the poll provides some information it’s just “a snapshot in time.”

“Politics is fickle,” Scott said. “And while you might be the hero this week, you might be the villain next week and perception changes,” he added.

“So, again, it’s good information to have and good for your ego, but at the same time, you have to focus on what you’re doing, doing it for the right reasons, not following polls,” the governor said.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, the poll shows that Gray and Milne are neck and neck, but that nearly a quarter of voters are still undecided.

Clark said it’s likely that many voters haven’t been paying attention to lieutenant governor’s race, with weeks to go until the election.

“I mean it’s not easy to ignore the presidential race right? If you have a TV or radio or internet or anything, you can’t ignore the presidential race. But you can go a long time without catching any news on the LG race,” Clark said.

Of the Democrats polled, 61% said they would vote for Gray and 9% said they would support Milne. Of the Republicans, 68% said they favored Milne, and 4% favored Gray. Milne is receiving more support from independents: 28% said they would vote for him, while 16% said they would vote for Gray.

Responding to the poll, Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin, Milne’s campaign manager, said that “Scott Milne’s momentum in this race is undeniable.”

“Vermonters understand that his three decades as a small business owner make him the best partner for Gov. Phil Scott to continue reopening our economy and put people back to work, and he is the only candidate for lieutenant governor with a plan to do just that,” Parent said.

Samantha Sheehan, Gray’s campaign manager, said that “it’s a close race and we are in it to win it.”

“We will be working hard as we did in the primary to run a strong and unifying campaign ready to take Vermont forward,” Sheehan wrote in a statement.

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