MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) It's off to the races for people vying to be Vermont's next political leaders. While candidates running for office had to submit their names by Thursday's standard filing deadline, officials this year waived the usual requirement for signatures in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"It could be as high as 40,000 to 50,000 signatures, where you would have face-to-face contact with people," said Vt. Secretary of State Jim Condos, D-Vermont.
But the restrictions on in-person gatherings is also making it harder for candidates to reach voters and donors. COVID-19 has forced candidates to shift theit campaigns online, through social media,Zoom, and other platforms. "People are adjusting pretty well to a different way of campaigning," Condos said.
But for those seeking Vermont's top office, it'll be an uphill battle. Incumbent governor's almost never lose, and Gov. Phil Scott has received wide support across the board for his handling of the COVID crisis. Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson says Scott also benefits from increased visibility.
"The reality is, as the incumbent governor in the age of a pandemic, he's on the news every day -- he has free media. He's taking advantage of that in a way that his challengers cannot," Dickinson said.
He says those running for office will have to walk a fine line of being on the offense but also being sensitive to the very real public health emergency. "Because you certainly don't want to attack him in a way that seems callous to the reality of the situation -- which is Vermonters are dying in a pandemic," Dickinson said.
Scott has said he doesn't plan to fundraiser or actively campaign during the state of emergency. Dickinson says the longer Scott sticks to governing through the crisis, the harder it is to attack him on the campaign trail. But he also says the strategy can backfire, because elections are the time where voters vet candidates.
"Whether the responsibility of a sitting elected official is to campaign... Its to let challengers do a side-by-side comparison and to raise issues and to inform voters about the issues," Dickinson said.
And though COVID and its immediate financial fallout will take center stage, Dickinson says it's too soon to tell how much pre-pandemic issues, like regulated marijuana sales, will be on the minds of voters come November.
The candidates have just over two months to make an impression ahead of Vermont's primary election on August 11th.