Op/Ed

Editorial: A primary night overview

ANGELO LYNN

Vermont Progressives took center stage in Vermont following Tuesday’s primary with left-leaning candidates capturing seats for U.S. Congress, Lt. Governor, the state’s Attorney General and several down-ticket offices. It was testament to the strong campaign run by Becca Balint in her race against moderate Democrat Molly Gray for Vermont’s lone congressional seat, and David Zuckerman’s race against moderate Democrat Kitty Toll for Lt. Governor. 

Popular U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders campaigned hard for both candidates, giving Balint, in particular, big boosts during the last two months of the campaign. 

That support — along with a record-setting $1.6 million in spending on mailers supporting Balint from various national LGBTQ Political Action Committees — made a huge difference in the last two months of the campaign as she rocketed to a 23-point lead, 59% to Gray’s 36%.

In retrospect, what hurt Gray as much as anything was her inability to combat the notion that she lacked experience, along with the sense that she just hadn’t paid enough political dues to waltz into a congressional seat after only two years in the Lt. Gov. office.

Women also did well in the Democratic Primary with Balint, Zuckerman narrowly besting Kitty Toll, and Sarah Copeland Hanzas edging out Deputy Sec. of State Chris Winters for the job by two percentage points in a three-way race, 35.7% to Winters’ 33.9% ,and John Odum polling 13.6%.

The lt. governor’s race was particularly interesting, as Zuckerman won with 41.7% of the vote compared to 37.1% for Kitty Toll, 9.14% for Patricia Preston and 7.1% for Charlie  Kimbell. Because Kimbell and Preston also ran as moderate Democrats, the number of moderate votes cast came in at about 54%, more than 12% higher than Zuckerman’s tally. 

In the Democratic primary for governor, liberal Democrat Brenda Siegel ran unopposed, garnering 57% of the vote with 56,000 voters, while 33,548 voters (or 34%) chose to leave the ballot empty. That’s not a great sign for Siegel.

But this will be the race that Siegel, who has run in the past as a Progressive, gets Democratic party support and the opportunity to let that much larger audience get to know her and the policies she stands for. 

As a three-term incumbent going for a fourth two-year term, Republican Gov. Phil Scott certainly will be heavily favored, but with a large Progressive turnout for Balint and Zuckerman in the General Election, Siegel will likely benefit by a few percentage points if she can create a favorable impression among the more progressive side of the Democratic party.

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On the Republican side, the surprise was Gerald Malloy’s upset of Republican establishment candidate Christina Nolan, 40% to 35%, for the open U.S. Senate seat. Nolan had been supported by national Republican leaders, as well as by Vermont Governor Phil Scott. 

Malloy, 60, who has only lived in Vermont for two years, is a retired U.S. Army veteran. He says he is a conservative Republican and a Trump supporter, though he refused to participate in political debates or press interviews so his policy positions are vague with the exception of a few tidbits he let out in press releases. He uses the standard conservative GOP rhetoric of setting the U.S. “back on track” and “making it strong again.” How, he doesn’t get into the specifics. 

He will be challenging Democrat Peter Welch for the seat long held by retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy. 

In the Republican primary for Lt. Governor, moderate Sen. Joe Benning prevailed over more conservative Gregory Thayer, 48% to 40%, and will challenge Zuckerman for the state’s number two job. Though an uphill battle in a very blue state, Benning shouldn’t be counted out in this race as he is a fiscal moderate and socially liberal Republican who will be representing moderate policy positions compared to Zuckerman’s progressive platform. To that end, expect Benning to appeal to a fair number of moderate Democrats.

In the Republican race for Congress, proclaimed Independent Liam Madden beat conservatives Erica Bundy Redic and Anya Tynio, who both were much further to the right. Madden has previously stated he would refuse the Republican mantel if he won, and would run for Congress as an independent against Balint.

Madden is an unusual candidate in that he openly wants to change the two-party system, saying it is “broken” and that sane national policies won’t be accomplished as long as the nation continues to re-elect representatives who are committed to maintaining the political status quo. 

He is progressive on many social policies and claims to be an environmentalist in favor of quickly reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. Madden, while articulate and philosophical, nonetheless will be waging a long-shot campaign — attractive to moderates and those more conservative — but up against huge funding from Balint’s national political action committees, a Democratic party that will rally behind her and many enthusiastic Vermonters.

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On the national scene, those candidates supporting Donald Trump continued to do well in Republican primary races as several knocked off more moderate Republicans — setting up a General Election contest in several more states between election deniers and conspiracy theorists versus moderate Democrats. 

The stakes are getting more grave by the day as Trump faces mounting legal problems from New York state on tax evasion from his family business, and election obstruction in Georgia, as well as the continuing Jan. 6 probe of the riot on the Capital. 

Those legal problems, ironically, may prompt Trump to declare a rerun for the presidency in the hopes that a win may be the only way he could get the GOP-slanted Supreme Court, and a favorable Congress to excuse him for his criminal activities — and prove America to be the Banana Republic he pretends to reject. If he announces ahead of the November mid-terms, however, it would give Democrats a needed issue to divert attention away from inflation and other domestic problems — even though Biden’s administration has passed many progressive initiatives — and back on Trump himself, a polarizing figure if there ever was one. And how that will end is anyone’s guess.

Angelo Lynn

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