Editorial: Firing up the race for Senate

The recent news that two Independents will join the race for Vermont Senate for Addison County fires up what was already an interesting race as Democratic Sen. Claire Ayer is stepping down from her seat after serving for 16 years, creating an open seat. Fellow Democratic Senator Chris Bray, New Haven, will run for re-election.
The two Independents are Middlebury businessman Paul Ralston and well-known dairy farmer Marie Audet, whose family owns one of the largest and most progressive dairy farms in the county and Vermont — Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport. (Click here to read the story.)
Joining Sen. Bray on the Democratic ticket will be Middlebury resident Ruth Hardy, and challenging the other four on the Republican ticket is Peter Briggs of Addison. As parties can advance a candidate for each seat, the five announced candidates for the county’s two seats will all advance to the General Election in November.
By running as Independents, Ralston and Audet avoid a primary election in which party apparatus and that inherent structure favors the party’s favored candidate who embraces the party’s political line. It would have been a compelling Democratic Primary to be sure. Sen. Chris Bray obviously would have garnered the party’s support as the incumbent, but it would have been an open field between Audet, Ralston and Hardy. And that four-way split would have been between a much smaller pool of voters in a primary election versus the general election this November.
With five candidates in the General Election, the most interesting question is how will the moderate to conservative voters break. Let’s assume the liberal voters vote Democratic, favoring incumbent Sen. Chris Bray and Ruth Hardy, who is currently the executive director of Emerge Vermont. That organization is committed to, as its website says, “changing the face of Vermont politics by identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office at all levels of government, get elected, and serve their communities and our state.” While theoretically nonpartisan, it’s largely been associated with nominating women running for state and local office (from the town’s selectboard and school boards, to mayors and legislative seats) within the Democratic party. Hardy also has a solidly liberal pedigree having worked for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and having served as the Executive Director of Community Health Services of Addison County, which operates the Open Door Clinic for uninsured/under insured Vermonters.
In Vermont and Addison County, being a liberal within the Democrat party counts for a fair number of votes off the cuff. But not enough to win an election. Vermonters pride themselves on being independent thinkers and on electing the best person for the office regardless of which party they represent. This is particularly true in the legislative seats of rural counties like Addison.
On the conservative side, assume Republican Peter Briggs will garner a few votes from his party faithful, as well — mainly those on the political right who might comprise some of the 30 percent of Vermonters who voted for President Trump. For Briggs, associating himself with Trump and his policies would not be a bad strategy, because in a 5-way race, 25 percent of the vote could mean a second-place finish.
But many of those conservative voters will be tempted to cast a vote for either Audet or Ralston — both of whom are running as pragmatic, business-savvy, candidates with moderate political views and not beholden to either political party. That perspective will be attractive to moderate Democrats, as well.
In could be, in fact, that moderates from the Republican and Democratic parties break for the candidate representing an independent voice, just because partisan politics has such a bad name right now. That, no doubt, is part of the thinking of both Audet and Ralston.
That’s all good. With the advantages and disadvantages of party cancelling each other out, let’s consider it a even playing field based on what each candidate brings to the race.
The good news is that most of the candidates have excellent credentials for the job. They understand business, state policy and finance better than the vast majority of legislators currently serving in the Senate. They’re bright and articulate and they want what’s best for Vermont.
The challenge is up to the voters to learn about each candidate as thoroughly as possible and make the choice that best represents their personal interests as well as that of the county and state. Our coverage continues in this coming Thursday’s issue with a broader report on Audet’s and Ralston’s entry into the race and what they hope to accomplish if elected.

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