vermont politics

Former U.S. Attorney for Vt. Enters U.S. Senate Race

Christina Nolan wants to serve in the seat currently held by the retiring Patrick Leahy 

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A high-profile Republican has entered the race for U.S. Senate in Vermont — a contest the major parties at both the state and national levels consider a top goal to win in November.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who has served for nearly 50 years, is not seeking re-election this fall.

"I believe I’m a unifier," Christina Nolan said in an interview with NECN Tuesday, the day she formally announced she is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. "I want to go to Washington to serve people, not a political party."

The 42-year-old is the state’s former top federal prosecutor. She said she is proud of work she did in that role, like taking on a big opioid pill maker for violating federal law as addiction soared.

Nolan received bipartisan support in the Senate during her confirmation as U.S. Attorney, and can already point to backing in her Senate run from the state’s most popular Republican, Gov. Phil Scott.

"I have no doubt I’ll be supporting her," the governor said Tuesday in response to a reporter’s question, adding that he likes Nolan’s demeanor and respects her experience as a federal prosecutor.

Nolan fully denounces the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, and said she has never met Donald Trump.

"I don’t want to look backward, I want to look forward," Nolan said in response to a question from NECN about whether she would support Trump if he is on the ballot in 2024. "I want Trump voters to vote for me. I want Biden voters to vote for me. I want independents to vote for me, and everyone beyond and in between. And what I want to do is bring out new voters."

Matt Dickinson, a political scientist at Middlebury College, expects Nolan will position herself as a fresh face. She is 30-plus years younger than the likely Democratic nominee, described herself as "her own woman," and insisted she is not always going to be in lockstep with the GOP.

"The thing she’s trying to do is, frankly, what Patrick Leahy did 48 years ago, which is run in a state which has historically leaned the other way," Dickinson observed.

Dickinson noted Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has gained remarkable influence in the Senate by not always being a rubber stamp vote for the Democrats, and suggested the inverse could be true for Nolan — if she can win the election.

When asked by NECN for an example of an issue where she might be willing to break with the Republican Party, Nolan offered, "One issue where I might break from some Republicans is I think we need to get family and medical leave passed."

Nolan pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as underscoring her belief in expanding access to paid family and medical leave. 

Dickinson emphasized that a GOP candidate will surely face stiff headwinds in Vermont, a state which is often associated with liberal politics.

However, Dickinson said there could be a narrow opening for Nolan.

"If Joe Biden’s approval ratings continue to lurk in the low 40s, and this becomes a wave year for Republicans, she hoping to hitch a ride on that wave," Dickinson said of Nolan. "Is it a long shot? I think it is. But it’s not beyond the realm of possibility."

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in November of last year, as NECN reported at the time. That announcement came shortly after Sen. Leahy went public with his decision to retire at the end of his current term.

In response to a question from NECN about the candidacy of Christina Nolan for U.S. Senate, Rep. Welch issued the following written statement:

"For the last 15 years I've worked hard to earn Vermonters' trust to serve them in the House. And it's my job every day to work to renew that trust. I'll vigorously campaign across the state and listen to all Vermonters, because I've spent my career doing this work the Vermont way. I listen more than I talk, build coalitions, and fight hard for working people. I believe that cooperation creates community and conflict creates division. I am all about working with anyone and everyone  -- Democrat, Republican, Independent -- who will help us make progress for all Vermonters and America's working families. 

"This election is crucial. We have to protect and preserve our democracy, address climate change, lower the cost of prescription drugs, reduce inflation, make our communities safe, provide affordable child care and housing to all families, and create better wages for working families. With that as our mission, we can't ignore the reality of what it would mean to hand Mitch McConnell control of the Senate. His fight for failure would mean an end to any progress we've made addressing these challenges together.

"I will continue to work every single day to earn the privilege of representing Vermonters in the U.S. Senate."

Before a November matchup between Nolan and Welch is finalized, however, both do have to fend off opponents in their parties’ primaries. That will be held on August 9. 

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