Speech's are currently underway, with State Representative Jason Lorber and Miro Weinberger having already spoken. Bram Kranichfeld will be nominated next - the room is absolutely packed with people, every pan of the camera is a little more amazing. Back this summer, I started taking a look at what this mayoral campaign was going to look like, through the lens of my LDI research. Over the course of this afternoon, while we wait for speeches to be made and votes to be cast & counted, I'm going to publish the work bit-by-bit, as well as touching on the candidates themselves. To know where we are headed, I think it is really important to look at where we've been. Burlington has not elected a Democratic mayor in two decades, and there's good reason for the results - the Burlington Progressive Party has managed to operate as the face of the left in city politics for the past 20 years, and Democratic candidates haven't been able to grab a foothold. Let's start by looking at what happened back in 2009:
Before moving towards Montpelier elections, we will start with the closest comparison – the past mayoral results. Below, we have provided the results for the past two elections, broken down by ward. For 2009, independent candidate Dan Smith has been omitted, as his votes were fairly evenly distributed amongst the three candidates following his elimination, and his candidacy did not appear to represent any one ideological part of the spectrum. Instead, his campaign support seemed drawn from younger affluent Burlingtonians. While he does not factor in to our conclusion, he did receive a nontrivial number of votes for the office – had a Democratic candidate been able to capture the imagination of his supporters, they would have had a whole other pool of support to draw from. Finally, while both campaigns were conducted under Instant Runoff Voting, we’ve only included the first-round results below, as they are most relevant to the new electoral system that has been implemented since 2009.
In 2009, City Council President and State Representative Kurt Wright captured the first round of the mayoral election just shy of the 40% needed to win the office – his victory in the opening round but subsequent loss as a result of Instant Runoff Voting procedure led to the repeal of the election format. At the time of the election, plenty of questions were all ready being raised about the Mayor’s job performance, but his incumbency and support among his base made the campaign unattractive to a Democratic contender. While city council member Andy Montroll joined the field, headlines were dominated with stories about the momentum behind Rep. Wright’s candidacy, and his endorsements from both council progressives like Jane Knodell, and business-based Democrats who had supported the candidacy of Hinda Miller three years prior.
Since we don't have house district breakdowns available, we're going to assess party performance relative to what is expected for the entire city. In the first round of 2009 voting, Kurt Wright came up just shy of the 40% mark, outperforming LDI expectations by 13%. Even in Wright's worst wards, he was still hitting around what the citywide average should be for Republican performance. If Democrats had retained half of those voters, under the new rules Montroll would've been headed into the runoff in good position, possibly even in first – instead, he was not able to lock down voters on either side, and missed out on the final round. In 2012, if Kiss runs for re-election, a Democrat who holds Wright's numbers down could break the 40% threshold outright, given expectations that Kiss is likely to underperform his previous two elections.
Moving forward, the 2009 race should serve as an example of the baseline support a Democrat can enjoy in a citywide run, as 200 voters choosing Montroll over Kiss could have led to Mayor Montroll at the end of the IRV process. A campaign able to generate any sort of public excitement or momentum could better this performance, and leave the candidate in an incredibly enviable position.
First round predictions:
I think there is really one central dynamic in this race: Tim Ashe vs. Democrats. Among the more hardcore politicos who tend to dominate caucuses, I have a hard time believing that they are pursuaded by Tim Ashe's rhetoric regarding uniting the left - in Montpelier his votes on things like changing the date of the state primary were not exactly the kind of Democratic team player votes you would expect.
But it's an open caucus, and I expect him to have the largest vote share on the first vote. My sense is that the voting will shake down like this:
First Round: Ashe, Kranichfeld, Weinberger, Lorber
Second Round: Ashe, Kranichfeld, Weinberger, Lorber
Third Round: Ashe, Kranichfeld, Weinberger
Fourth Round: Kranichfeld, Ashe
On the specific candidates strategies for getting 50%+1:
Ashe: Honestly I think Ashe's best hope is that he wins on the first ballot (which seems incredibly unlikely given the turnout), or that he is pushed past 50% following Lorber's exit, given that he was able to court a fair number of progressives early in the game when he was the only candidate out there. As every round goes on, he stands a less and less likely chance to be the victor. The main problem is that Kranichfeld - who appears to have become the choice of progressive Democrats - is also the candidate with party stalwarts, who will vote against Ashe's in pretty much every imaginable scenario.
Kranichfeld: At the beginning of the campaign I would not have been so confident that Kranichfeld ended up being the candidate int his position, but it seems as though he has been able to edge out Lorber as the party favorite, while also drawing in support from the young progressive crowd. Bram doesn't have a big weakness after the second ballot - if him and Tim are in first and second, I think it pretty easily becomes his race to lose.
Weinberger: Miro's relying on a turnout that I just don't think is going to be there, and his campaign is probably going to hit some of the same hurdles that Dan Smith ran into. A lot of people like his vision, but he's an untested candidate and in what is going to be a hyperpartisan affair, I'm not sure his candidacy plays well. His only hope is to be 2nd on the first ballot behind Tim Ashe, and hope to pull in the majority of votes from the first candidate out.
Lorber: I think Jason's odds are the worst of the folks here, and I expect him or Miro to finish last on the first vote... but he also has the kind of consensus approval from people that with a little luck he could pass the hurdle Andy Montroll never did, and wind up going from 3rd to 1st. I think it's an uphill climb, but we'll be able to know how it will all shake down once the first round votes are in.
Well, this is exactly the kind of surprise that was needed to mess up my predictions. Miro Weinberger's strong first round showing has to have his campaign excited, and rightly so - he has now become the defacto challenger to Ashe. Ashe's campaign has to be similarly happy, but finding 150 votes to get them across the line could prove extremely difficult.
So, where do Lorber's votes go? Had Ashe & Kranichfeld come across the line 1-2, I was fairly confident that Kranichfeld could bring in a pretty high percentage of Lorber's base, with the party label making the difference between two candidates that have city council ties and are equally palatable to progressives. Weinberger is less of an obvious foil against Ashe, but all he needs to do is hold his support, and hope that he and Bram pick up equal shares of the Lorber crowd. If Ashe doesn't pick up the least number of votes from Jason, I think his campaign is going to feel good about the final round.
Bram has to woo Jason supporters in a major way right now. The gap between himself and Weinberger isn't insignificant - he needs to take well over half of Jason's votes, or hope that a candidate starts leaking support, to stay alive in this race. I think that's too tall of a task, and Miro's folks have to be ready to make the case that he's going to be the true Democratic candidate in the final round of voting.
Well, we're not done here. There is currently a recount going on to see if one or two votes may have been missed that would switch this outcome - 542 would have allowed either of the candidates to be the winner. This is pretty crazy - the best I can say is that Miro seems to have made the case to Democrats in enough numbers to pull it off, but when dealing with these quesitons around the edges it is pretty difficult.
What's sketchy is the strategy for a possible next caucus. I think you can sense the mistrust over Ashe's campaign, and whether or not he truly is a Democrat running for mayor. Weinberger's best bet would be to play on that and make sure that the crowd who votes next time around believes he's the only Democratic candidate in the Democratic primary...
At the same time, that would be horrific for unity, and would probably guarantee Kurt Wright becomes the next mayor of Burlington. They're going to have really thread the needle on this one.