Vermont Voters Choose Gubernatorial General Election Challengers

Aug 15, 2018

Vermont voters have chosen their general election candidates and made history in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Four balloted and one write-in candidate ran in Vermont’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.  With 272 of 275 districts reporting, unofficial results from the Vermont Secretary of State’s office show that Christine Hallquist won the Democratic primary with 40 percent of the vote. James Ehlers and Brenda Siegel are virtually tied with 18 percent each. Nearly 7 percent of Vermont Democrats voted for 14-year-old Ethan Sonneborn. The write-ins have not been delineated, but state Senator John Rodgers mounted a late campaign; 5 percent of Democrats wrote in their vote.

Hallquist is receiving national attention as the first transgender woman to win a major party nomination for governor.  She only briefly acknowledged that in her victory speech Tuesday night. She says she has great faith in Vermont and her campaign message resonated across the state.  “My message was about putting more food on the table. You know our current governor he’s talking about no new taxes. Of course nobody wants new taxes. Neither do I. But a good leader has a long term plan how we’re going to grow our economy. And rural Vermont, you know two-thirds of the Vermont residents are rural, you know rural Vermont suffering and we’ve got to have a plan for how to make things better for those people who live in rural Vermont as well as those that are living on the lowest 20 percent or the lowest part of the economic ladder.”

Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis:  “Christine Hallquist had a bit more money than the other candidates. In the last two weeks in particular I think she spent a lot of time traveling around the state getting her message out. She did not get half the vote in the primary. She got about 40 percent and two of the other candidates who got roughly 18 to 20 percent each, or in total about the same as Christine Hallquist, ran as more explicitly progressive candidates. So Christine Hallquist’s challenge I think is getting the Progressive Democrats in the base to get enthusiastic about her if they might not have been enthusiastic about her before the primary.”

In Vermont’s Republican gubernatorial primary, first-term incumbent Phil Scott defeated Keith Stern, a businessman with no political experience, 65 to 31 percent.  During his victory speech Tuesday evening, Scott commended his challenger for running and proceeded to outline his accomplishments during his first term. He added that he wants to accomplish more.  "Looking ahead as I’ve consistently done throughout my political life I will run a positive issues-based campaign over the next three months talking to Vermonters about the things that matter most to them and working every day to grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the vulnerable.”

Scott said he had expected the primary result to be closer.  Davis says while Scott won by roughly a 2-1 margin he could be vulnerable with a core contingent of voters.  “There is a core group of conservatives in the Republican party in the base who feel strongly about the 2nd Amendment, about supporting President Trump, about very conservative fiscal policy and they’re not particularly enthusiastic about Phil Scott. So just as Christine Hallquist’s challenge for the general election is motivating the progressives in the Democratic base to support her so Phil Scott’s challenge in the general election is going to be motivating the conservatives in the Republican base to support him.”  

For her part, Hallquist says in Vermont, there has been very little emphasis on her gender despite Wednesday’s headlines.  “Vermonters aren’t considering the fact that I’m transgender anything unusual. They’re looking through to say what are we going to do for Vermont?  Of course on the national level and the international level it’s significant and I respect both of those. You know I’m honored to be a leader and helping the country widen its moral compass and be more accepting of others.”

Roughly twice as many votes were cast in the Democratic than in the Republican primary.

Audio from Governor Phil Scott is courtesy of Vermont Public Radio.