Digging into an upstart candidate’s campaign

I spent much of my summer working at VTDigger following the campaign of TJ Donovan, a county prosecutor who took on a 15-year incumbent in the Democratic primary for Attorney General. As the election drew near, I wrote an in-depth piece on Donovan and his campaign.

A primary question: Can Donovan unseat Sorrell?

What does it take to unseat a 15-year incumbent who is well-liked inside the Democratic Party and who has executed his job well enough not to have faced a serious challenger his entire tenure?

That’s the question TJ Donovan and his campaign team have been trying to answer since the Chittenden County state’s attorney launched his primary campaign for Vermont attorney general in early May.

The young state’s attorney faced an uphill battle from the start: A poll taken in the spring showed Sorrell beating out Donovan two-to-one.

In a May interview about Donovan’s campaign launch, retired Middlebury political science professor Eric Davis wasn’t sure about the viability of the 38-year-old’s candidacy.

“I think TJ is off to a good start, but what he wants to do is historically unprecedented — no Democratic statewide officeholder has ever lost a primary,” Davis said.

Donovan’s response to the historic odds has been an aggressive campaign strategy that includes attempts at daily headline grabbing. His campaign has energetically tried to break into the news cycle by doling out individual endorsements from high profile unions and politicians from both sides of the aisle, and press releases on policy statements addressing what he sees as the issues of the day — prescription drug abuse, gay marriage rights, elder abuse and higher than necessary incarceration rates for low-level crimes.

His persistence and early efforts paid off. Donovan got at least eight endorsements from individuals and entities that have firsthand experience with the state’s crime problems — Republican mayors Thom Lauzon of Barre and Chris Louras of Rutland, the Vermont Troopers Association and the Vermont Sheriff’s Association – before Sorrell launched his campaign on May 30.

Read the rest at VTDigger.org.


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