Historic primary to bring changes to Capitol Hill, Vt. Statehouse

Calvin Cutler breaks down the primary results
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - After months of debates, stump speeches, and campaign pamphlets flooding mailboxes, Vermont voters finally had their say during Tuesday’s primary election, and now the focus shifts to November.

The unofficial tally shows an estimated 132,000 Vermonters cast their ballots for Tuesday’s primary compared to 107,000 back in 2018. It was a historic election that featured a record number of open statewide offices, a veritable game of musical chairs created by the retirement of Senator Patrick Leahy.

“It was the people, the passion, and the Progressives who turned out in this election,” said Chris Graff, a longtime AP Statehouse reporter and author.

Vt. Senate President Becca Balint came out on top with the help of endorsements from numerous Statehouse colleagues and Senator Bernie Sanders. Lt. Governor Molly Gray earned the endorsement of the Democratic Party establishment, including Senator Leahy and former Governors Howard Dean and Madeline Kunin.

But Graff says it was Sanders’ seal of approval for Balint and other candidates like David Zuckerman that show the influence of Progresisve politics in Vermont. “This is Bernie’s state -- it clearly came through,” he said.

Julia Barnes, a longtime Sanders campaign strategist who advised the Balint campaign, says the results represent Vermonters’ yearning for different policies and leadership. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a referendum on the establishment in Vermont but I think it’s more reflective of what Vermonters want to see in their politics,” she said. Other candidates who won statewide offices Tuesday also leaned left of center.

Primary elections typically bring out the most enthusiastic voters in each party, including the GOP. However, the intention of Republican primary voters was less clear. For the U.S. Senate race, they gave the nod to conservative Army veteran Gerald Malloy over former U.S. Attorney for Vermont Christina Nolan, a centrist who was endorsed by Gov. Phil Scott. But another moderate endorsed by the governor, Senator Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County, won the GOP primary for lt. governor over a pro-Trump candidate. And Liam Madden, a self-described Independent, won the GOP House race, although he now says he may not even accept the nomination.

“Phil Scott would love for it, to be standing up for a party like Jim Douglas -- one that is moderate. But that’s not how it is below those few named people,” Graff said.

Meanwhile, former Governor Douglas says he worries about political polarization on both the left and right. “I think it’s important as we look to November, that Vermonters look to people who can work with the governor and be moderate on both sides of the aisle and work with elected officials so we can get something done,” he said.

The primary also featured a large number of Democratic women who came out on top, including in races for governor, Congress, secretary of state, attorney general, and down-ballot races. A total of 44 of those winners are graduates of Emerge Vermont, an organization that trains Democratic women to run for office.

“They see the promise of a functional democracy and they see a promise of a functional government that reflects the values of their communities and people, and I think voters in Vermont responded that way as well,” Barnes said.

Newfane activist Brenda Siegel will go head-to-head against incumbent Republican Governor Phil Scott in November. Siegel ran unopposed Tuesday, winning 56% of the vote.

An estimated 34% of Democrats didn’t cast a ballot for the governor’s race and about 4,400 Democrats wrote in Governor Scott.

Click here for Tuesday’s statewide primary results.

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