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Lt. Gov. Race Heats Up As Corren Poised To Get Public Financing

dean-corren-courtesy.jpg
Courtesy Dean Corren
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The Progressive Party's Dean Corren has cleared the threshold needed to qualify for public financing in his bid for lieutenant governor.

The race for lieutenant governor grew suddenly more competitive Wednesday when Progressive Party candidate for lieutenant governor Dean Corren announced that he’s cleared the threshold needed to qualify for public financing.

Corren says he’s succeeded in raising $17,500 from 750 individual donors in denominations of $50 or less – the amounts needed to become eligible for $200,000 in public financing.

If the secretary of state certifies Corren’s numbers, then the former Burlington legislator will get $50,000 in taxpayer funds for the primary, and another $150,000 for the general election. That’s more than the $140,000 incumbent Republican Phil Scott raised during the entire 2012 elections cycle.

Corren said the strong financial footing guarantees voters a competitive race.

“Even if they raise a lot of money, we will not be outspent by many-fold,” Corren said Wednesday. “We will be right there in the running,”

Scott has criticized the use of taxpayer money for political campaigns. He said Wednesday that while he has no doubt he could have cleared the hurdle himself, he wouldn’t feel right using public money that could otherwise be spent on things like road improvements.

But Corren says the public financing mechanism is the best way to preserve the integrity of candidates for public office.

“And the candidates can then instead of being beholden to big money interests, can spend all of their time talking to the public,” Corren said.

Democratic candidate John Bauer is also trying to qualify for public financing. He has until the close of the business day tomorrow to meet the deadline. A spokesperson for the Bauer campaign said Wednesday that the campaign is still working hard to meet the deadline, and will notify news organizations on Thursday to announce whether it was successful or not.

Corren says he managed to raise the money in 37 days, thanks in part to county coordinators who used phone and email networks to solicit funds. Corren says the push for single-payer health care will be the centerpiece of his campaign agenda.

“Health care reform is my prime motivating factor for being in this race,” Corren says. “All the stars have aligned, and we have to keep this moving forward. And that’s why I’m in this race.”

Corren and Bauer have similar ideological leanings – both include single-payer health care and more progressive economic policies among their top priorities. And conventional political wisdom suggests that either would fare better in a one-on-one scenario with the popular two-term Republican incumbent.

Corren says that if Bauer fails to qualify for public financing, then he won’t explicitly ask the liberal Democrat to bow out, lest they split the left.

But Corren says he will reach out to all voters, Democrats among them, in an attempt to secure support for his candidacy.

“And I know for a fact, since I’ve gotten some tremendously positive feedback from Democrats around the state, that a lot of Democrats will be supporting me,” Corren says.

Corren says he’ll use the money to support a small campaign staff, and to spread his health-care based campaign message. He says he assumes that the campaign will include television, radio and other media buys. But he says he has very little expertise in the machinery of modern political campaigns.

“I know so little about the logistics of campaigning, and the cost of those things,” Corren says. “I recently learned the cost of bus posters on the CCTA, and it’s really amazing.”

The last campaign finance reports were filed on March 15. As of that date, Scott had raised $8,500 for his reelection effort. The lieutenant governor says Corren’s sudden windfall ups the stakes for his own fundraising operation.

“And I will do my best to meet the ($200,000), so that I can be on a level playing field in terms of dollars,” Scott says.

Scott says he sent out fundraising letters last week, and has 50 unopened envelopes that have come back so far.

“I am very pleasantly surprised by the response,” he says.

Though Scott will likely be the only name-brand Republican seeking statewide office this year, he won’t be able to count on much financial support from his party’s state apparatus. Since a well-attended fundraiser last December that essentially allowed the party to close out 2013 in the black, the GOP has struggled to raise revenue, and has been far out-raised by the Vermont Democratic Party.

Corren is the first candidate to qualify for public financing since 2004, when the Progressive Party’s Steve Hingten qualified for public money in his race for lieutenant governor.

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