Progressive and centrist Dems battle for Vermont House seat

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Lieutenant Gov. Molly Gray and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Becca Balint are leading candidates in the Democratic US House primary, making either of them the first female members of Vermont’s congressional delegation.

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With the support of the former government, Gray enjoys the support of the centrist lane of the party. Madeline Kunin and Howard Dean. Retired U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy donated $5,000 to his campaign and voted for him.

Ballint is endorsed by an all-star list of progressive leaders including the other US senator in the state, Bernie Sanders; Representative Pramila Jayapal, President of the Congress Progressive Caucus; and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Vermont’s famed progressive ice cream company, Ben & Jerry’s.

The winner of Tuesday’s primaries is expected to win in dark blue Vermont in November. Despite the liberal credentials of the state built over the past half century, the lack of business in congressional delegations has made Vermont the only state in the country that has never been represented by a woman in Washington.

Leahy’s retirement after 48 years in office set the stage for a history-making moment. US Representative Peter Welch, who has been in Congress since 2007, decided to run for Lehi’s Senate seat. This opened his House seat to either Gray or Balint, who, if elected, would be the first openly gay man to represent Vermont in Congress.

This is the first open seat in the state’s three-person Congress delegation since 2006. And given Vermont’s propensity to get re-elected, it’s likely that the winner of the Democratic primary will be able to hold on to the seat for as long as they want.

Advertisements on television and social media, and flyers showing up in Vermonters’ mailboxes every day, remain positive, viewing candidates as having their qualifications. But the high stakes of the competition – and the ongoing battle between the centrist and progressive wings of the Democratic Party – have exposed the intensity of the campaign.

During a debate on Thursday, Gray called out Balint for a critical comment seeking the support of Vermont’s Progressive Party. Ballint described Gray as “a catastrophe for the corporatist and the left”.

Gray said, “How can Vermonters expect you to act any differently in Congress, where you have made negative attacks on this campaign?” Gray said. “Isn’t that the problem we see in Congress today?”

Ballint apologized to Gray for the comment, “if it hurt you.” But Balint used the opportunity to note the source of many of Gray’s campaign contributions.

“I said at the time that the reason I was concerned was because of the money you’re raising from Washington insiders,” Balint said. “You raised a lot of money from lobbyists in DC, not that much money from people. Back here in Vermont.”

Despite this tension, both the candidates have similar views on most of the issues. Both support abortion rights and want to promote affordable housing, increase access to affordable child care, and expand broadband Internet services to rural areas.

Gray, a 38-year-old lawyer, grew up on a farm in the Connecticut River town of Newbury and now lives in Burlington. He has spoken about his experience working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Europe as a Welch employee in Washington, his time as assistant attorney general and his job as lieutenant governor for the past two years.

A 54-year-old former middle school teacher from Brattleboro, Balint first came to Vermont in 1994 to teach rock climbing and settled permanently in the state in 1997. She was first elected to the state Senate in 2014. Two years ago, she became the first woman elected as Senate President pro tempore, meaning she oversees the chamber’s legislative work and presides over the state Senate when the lieutenant governor is absent.

Controversy about the source of his donations—Vermonters versus spending by out-of-state donors or outside groups—has helped stir up some of the acrimony in the race.

Several outside groups are supporting Balint’s candidacy, including the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has spent nearly $1 million supporting him. By law, those groups are prohibited from coordinating their efforts with campaigns.

Before the ad began, Gray asked Ballint if she would condemn the outside spending. Balint agreed.

Now that the external spending has started, Gray says they are the outside group…

Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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