MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The leader of Vermont's state Senate, Becca Balint, won the Democratic Party primary on Tuesday for Vermont's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, meaning she could become the first woman and the first openly gay person to represent the state in Congress.
In deep-blue Vermont, it’s likely the Democratic candidate will also clinch the general election in November. A win by Balint, who is white, would help erase what some consider to be the blot on the liberal state’s reputation of only being represented by white men.
Balint garnered support from the progressive wing of the state party, including the independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and national progressive leaders such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Balint had campaigned with Sanders late last month.
Balint defeated Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, a more centrist candidate who was supported by the state’s Democratic establishment, including retiring U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and former governors Howard Dean and Madeleine Kunin.
In a statement, Balint thanked her opponents in the primary and said she was "humbled and honored by this victory."
“Tonight is a big step forward for our state. Vermont has chosen a bold, progressive vision for the future, and I will be proud to represent us in Congress," Balint said. “We can preserve democracy, tackle climate change, bridge inequality, and make the health care system work for all of us. I know that we will.”
In a concession speech, Gray said she'd called Balint to congratulate her on the win.
“While my disappointment is profound, so too is my gratitude for his opportunity,” Gray said. “This was a tough race with deeply qualified candidates making their case to Vermonters.”
Vermont voters also chose Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch to replace Leahy, who has held the seat since 1975 and was the last of Congress’s so-called Watergate babies. Welch’s decision to run for the Senate seat opened up his seat in the House, the first time since 2006 that there have been any openings in Vermont’s three-member congressional delegation.
Welch easily defeated two little-known candidates to move on to the general election in November. During his years in Congress, Welch has been one of Vermont’s top vote-getters and would be an odds-on favorite to win the general election.
Welch will face retired U.S. Army officer Gerald Malloy, who defeated former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan in Tuesday's Republican primary for the Senate seat. Malloy says he believes he can win in November, although no Republican has represented the state in Washington since 2001 when the late Sen. Jim Jeffords left the GOP to become an independent, switching control of the Senate from Republican to Democratic.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott also cruised to his party’s primary victory, defeating two candidates as he seeks a fourth term. The lone candidate for the Democratic nomination is activist Brenda Siegel, of Newfane. Last fall she spent 27 nights sleeping on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse to highlight the state’s homelessness challenge.
Liam Madden, a Marine Corps veteran who describes himself as a non-traditional candidate, won the GOP primary, defeating Ericka Redic of Burlington and Anya Tynio of Charletson.
Madden says he's an independent, and has said he considered declining the nomination if he won — until he learned that would allow the party to choose a replacement for the November ballot.