Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint has defeated Vermont Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the Democratic primary for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Peter Welch, who easily won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Gray conceded the election to Balint, who led with 61 percent of the vote to Gray’s 36 percent with 23 percent of precincts reporting.
Balint will face former Marine Liam Madden of Bellows Falls, who took 42 percent of the vote in a three-way race for the Republican nomination.
But Balint is expected to cruise to victory in November, which would be a historic first for Vermont. Despite the state’s liberal credentials, Vermont is the only state in the country that has never been represented in Washington by a woman.
Leahy’s retirement after 48 years in office set the stage for the history-making moment. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, who has been in Congress since 2007, decided to run for Leahy’s Senate seat. That opened up his House seat for Balint, who will also be the first openly gay person to represent Vermont in Congress if elected.
It’s the first open seat in the state’s three-person congressional delegation since 2006. And given Vermont’s penchant for reelecting incumbents, it’s likely Balint will be able to hold the seat as long as she wants.
Balint, a 54-year-old former middle school teacher from Brattleboro, first came to Vermont in 1994 to teach rock climbing and settled in the state permanently in 1997. She was first elected to the state Senate in 2014. Two years ago, she became the first woman chosen as Senate president pro tempore, overseeing the chamber’s legislative work and presiding over the state Senate if the lieutenant governor is absent.
Balint was endorsed by an all-star list of progressive leaders, including the state’s other U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders; Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Vermont’s famously progressive ice cream company, Ben & Jerry’s.
Voter Annie Greenfelder of Middlesex noted there was no real policy difference between Gray and Balint. She said she voted for Balint because of the endorsements she has received from environmental activists but would like to see Gray run for another office.