When campaigning on the issues does not work for a candidate, step two is to discredit the opposition. That is the step Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe has taken with Molly Gray, his most serious rival in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

Mr. Ashe has accused Ms. Gray of accepting campaign donations from the “political and donor elites” which is another way of whining about not getting the donations and endorsements himself. If they are not given to him, no one should have them.

Former Governors Peter Shumlin and Madeline Kunin both picked Ms. Gray, not Mr. Ashe. Lt. Gov. Doug Racine and Matt Dunne, who ran for governor, also back Ms. Gray, not Mr. Ashe. Many of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s former staffers have all embraced Ms. Gray, not Mr. Ashe. And it’s a given Rep. Peter Welch will cast his vote for Ms. Gray, a former staff member of his, not Mr. Ashe. The list goes on to include a number of high profile Vermonters who have elected to support Ms. Gray as the preferred choice, not Mr. Ashe.

This, obviously, does not sit well with Mr. Ashe. Ms. Gray is a relative new comer, having never run for elective office. Mr. Ashe has been a legislator for 12 years and knows everyone. He’s from Chittenden County, the state’s center of political power. But she’s getting the endorsements, and the money, and he isn’t.

When politicians stoop to cast doubt on the integrity of their opponent, they have to be careful, anticipating how the public will perceive the complaint, and being careful not to be found hypocritical.

The hypocrisy is Mr. Ashe’s problem. There is every reason to believe he would have accepted every penny from every donor Ms. Gray has. Large or small. From the rich and the famous. Are we to believe he would not have accepted money and the endorsements of Mr. Shumlin, or Ms. Kunin? Mr. Racine? Mr. Dunne? Mr. Welch? Not a chance.

It gets better. Mr. Ashe accused Ms. Gray of accepting money from former Vermont Rep. Peter Smith, saying Mr. Smith was once Sen. Bernie Sander’s opponent. Mr. Smith is a Republican, Mr. Ashe’s complaint being Ms. Gray’s acceptance of money from a Republican, something he would never do.

But Mr. Ashe didn’t do his homework. He didn’t look at his own list of campaign contributions. He has received money from Mark and Amanda Harmeling, who live in Florida. The Harmelings contributed to both Sen. Mitt Romney and former President George W. Bush. Mr. Ashe was forced to admit as much. After the fact.

And, by the way, it was 1990 when Peter Smith ran unsuccessfully against Bernie Sanders. That’s ancient history, which just shows how flummoxed Mr. Ashe is with the surprise challenge Ms. Gray is posing. These were supposed to be his backers, and his money, and he was supposed to walk away with this race.

And he still might. When the race began the odds were prohibitively in favor of Mr. Ashe. He has the name recognition, the time in office, and the political connections established over 12 years in office. It was a slam dunk.

So how has Ms. Gray roared to the front in fundraising, and in so doing, gotten on television with fairly extensive buys, while Mr. Ashe limps behind, his supposed lead in question?

For starters, she has a better and more acceptable message for most Vermonters. Mr. Ashe’s reputation is one on the far left. She’s more politically moderate, hence the breadth of her endorsements. Mr. Ashe may also have simply assumed his competition was middling in nature, thus excusing himself from the dirty work of actually asking people for their support.

Now, he’s doing the dirty work of trying to tear down something beyond his reach. It’s not a nice look for Mr. Ashe.

by Emerson Lynn

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