A midsummer primary in one of the smallest states in the country took on historic national significance Tuesday night when Christine Hallquist became the first openly transgender candidate in U.S. history to win a major party gubernatorial nomination.
Hallquist, a former utility executive, easily outpaced her competitors in a four-way race for the nomination. With all but 17 of 275 precincts reporting late Tuesday night, Hallquist had more than 40 percent of the vote. Her two closest competitors, Brenda Siegel and James Ehlers, had received less than 20 percent.
When The Associated Press called the race for Hallquist on Tuesday, the dozens of supporters who’d turned out for her election night party could barely contain themselves.
They broke out into a chant after Hallquist delivered her victory speech:
“Show me what democracy looks like,” they roared. “This is what democracy looks like!”
And on Tuesday, democracy looked like this: a transgender woman, standing on a stage in a bar in downtown Burlington, Vermont, accepting her party’s gubernatorial nomination.
“I must say I’m incredibly honored, incredibly honored to have all your support and all the things that I heard were said,” Hallquist said. “You know, tonight we made history.”
That reference to “history” would be Hallquist’s only nod to her gender identity in her speech. While Hallquist has embraced her role as a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community, she says she prefers to wage her campaign in the policy arena.
And as she heads into a general election race against incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott, the policy contrasts are stark.
“And we want to get the message out to Vermonters that Phil Scott is not doing us any favors in these areas that we all support,” Hallquist said.
Hallquist supports the $15 minimum wage and paid family leave bills that Scott vetoed earlier this year. She supports a ban on the sale of so-called assault weapons, a position Scott opposed. She wants to create a legal retail market for cannabis in Vermont and use the revenue to pay for clean water initiatives.
And, perhaps most notably, she’s vowed to deliver fiber-optic cable and high-speed internet to every home and business in Vermont.
“No matter how small our communities are in this state, we’ve got to take care of them. And that includes keeping their schools and keeping their downtowns,” Hallquist said.
At his election night party at a VFW post in Burlington, Ehlers blamed his loss in part on lack of support from the Vermont Democratic Party.
“We know that the party actively recruited opposition to our campaign,” Ehlers said.
Siegel, a working-class single mother who said she was running because she didn’t see people like her reflected in statewide elected offices, said she was disappointed not to have won Tuesday.
“But I also will fight hard so that we have a Democratic governor in November,” Siegel said.
And Hallquist will need all the help she can get. The Republican Governors Association has already poured more than $1 million into a super PAC to support Scott. And Vermonters haven’t ousted an incumbent governor in more than 50 years.
Ethan Sonneborn, who finished last in Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary with about 7 percent of the vote, said Democrats will need to hone their message in order to win in November.
“Phil Scott can run on cutting taxes all day, but if we’re running on making sure people have health care and making sure that they have jobs, then I think we can win this,” Sonneborn said. “It’s all about appealing to working- and middle-class voters who feel like they’re looking for a champion.”
Hallquist will spend the general election campaign trying to convince voters that she’s the champion they’re looking for.