Candidates for Vt. Lt. Gov. in Final Stretch of Closely-Watched Race

Republican Scott Milne predicted his contest with Democrat Molly Gray will be "very, very close"

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Thirteen days ahead of Election Day, more than 166,000 ballots have been returned in Vermont, according to the office of Secretary of State Jim Condos.

That high level of early participation now has campaigns aiming to reach undecided voters or people choosing to wait until Nov. 3 to cast their ballots.

The open seat for lieutenant governor has made for what many would call Vermont's most hotly-contested race this year.

The state elects its lieutenant governor separately from its governor, every two years, so those leaders can and do come from different political parties.

"The focus of this campaign has always been putting people before politics," said Democrat Molly Gray, an assistant attorney general and first-time candidate running for the office.

Gray emerged victorious from a four-way primary in August, defeating more established names in Vermont politics.

"I think it's going to be very, very close, so if you're supporting Scott Milne, please try to get out and vote," said Republican Scott Milne, the president of a travel company that bears his name.

With two weeks left, Vermont has already seen half the number of ballots cast as it did in the last presidential election.

Milne previously ran unsuccessfully for governor and U.S. Senator, coming close to a win in his 2014 bid for governor.

The lieutenant governor presides over the Vermont Senate, breaking tie votes—which are rare.

They're also next in line should the governor not be able to serve. That is how Lt. Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, stepped into the state's top job when Republican Gov. Dick Snelling died in 1991.

The position pays about $78,000 a year, according to senior political reporter Stewart Ledbetter of NECN affiliate NBC 5 News, but it doesn't have a ton of policy power.

It does, however, offer a statewide platform to advocate for key issues.

NECN asked Gray, who was volunteering Wednesday to pick apples for food-insecure Vermonters, and Milne, who was working at the travel business hit hard by the pandemic, what they would champion.

"We're coming into the biggest economic catastrophe America's seen in 75 years," Milne predicted. "I represent a skill set that's a little underrepresented in Montpelier in good times and especially underrepresented with what we've got coming up. So I'm focused on jobs and the economy, and once we get that working, there's all kinds of other great things to work on, but I think it's going to take a couple years just to help our economy get back and help families get back to where they're feeling secure."

"The reason I got into this race was because of our demographics challenges," Gray said. "Thirty-six-year-olds and 40-year-olds today are still paying student loan debt, are trying to save to buy a home in Vermont—many are still renting—trying to figure out how to afford childcare and thinking about having children, but possibly also taking care of aging parents. There's a sandwich generation that's trying to make it work in this state and really struggling."

Three lesser-known names are also on the ballot: Progressive Cris Ericson, Independent Wayne Billado, and Ralph Corbo, who is running under the party label "Banish the F35s."

As for where the top candidates stand on the presidency, Gray, unsurprisingly, said she voted for Joe Biden. Milne said he will not vote for President Donald Trump. Milne told NECN he'll either write in former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas or perhaps even choose Biden.

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