Ahead of Vermont’s primary election on August 9, voters are already casting ballots by mail or at their city and town clerks’ offices.
A wave of retirements and candidates seeking higher office has left the state with a number of high-profile open seats, including for U.S. Senate, U.S House, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, secretary of state, and attorney general.
Much of the public attention on the primary is centering on the Democrats running for U.S. House.
Vermont’s three-person Congressional delegation has not changed since 2006.
This year, the retirement of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and the choice by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, to go for that Senate seat have the current lieutenant governor and the leader of the Vermont Senate each hoping to become the first woman to represent Vermont in the U.S. House.
Vermont is the nation’s only state to have not yet sent a woman to D.C.
Molly Gray says her law background, term in statewide office as lieutenant governor, and prior experience as a Congressional aide to Rep. Welch have prepared her for the job.
"Our state can lead with civility – we always do," Gray said. "I have as lieutenant governor, and I think we need more of Vermont’s values right now in Washington as we work to heal this democracy and deliver for rural states like Vermont."
However, Becca Balint, a former middle school teacher who’s openly gay, insists she’s the most tested. She’s reminding voters of tough fights she’s led in the Vermont Senate on major issues like Vermont’s recent gun reforms.
"I am the only one in the race that has legislative experience," Balint said in an interview with NECN. “That has had to have those really hard conversations crafting legislation, making sure you have a coalition to pass that legislation.”
A third Democrat for Congress, Louis Meyers, said he believes Vermonters are much more interested in issues like inflation than they are specifically in seeing a woman serve.
“Gender does not define the person,” Meyers said, arguing he has unique insights as a physician. “Clearly, I understand the health care system on a much more granular level than the other candidates, and health care is still 20% of our budget and it’s increasing every year. And 100% of us will need the health system at some point in our lives.”
Middlebury College political scientist Matt Dickinson predicts Vermont’s reputation as a blue state in federal elections will boost turnout in the Democrats’ House primary.
Balint is seen as leaning more left than Gray and Meyers, so Dickinson told NECN the race for many will come down to a question of the candidates’ approaches.
“You could view the House race as a microcosm of the fight over the soul of the Democratic Party nationally,” Dickinson said. “I don’t think there’s a simple answer to which way Vermonters want to go. But I do think they represent different viewpoints about the future of the Democratic Party: one that’s more socially progressive, more identity-based, the other that’s more moderate in the sense of they’re acknowledging there’s another side here that we might have to work with going ahead.”
Vermont Democrats will see a fourth name on ballots, but Sianay Chase Clifford suspended her campaign after ballots were printed. A previous candidate for the U.S. House, Kesha Ram Hinsdale, exited the race before ballots were printed and endorsed Balint.
Vermont Digger reported Chase Clifford did not plan to endorse any of the remaining candidates.
Whichever Democrat clinches their party’s primary will face off with the winner of the Republican contest between Liam Madden, Anya Tynio, and Ericka Bundy Redic. Barbara Nolfi is the only name on Progressive Party ballots.
In Vermont, people can register to vote in the primary up to and including on August 9. For more information on registering to vote, visit the website of the Vermont Secretary of State.