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Democrats Rally Behind Minter, Zuckerman

Taylor Dobbs
Vermont Public Radio
Sue Minter, the Democratic nominee for governor, shared a hug with Sen. Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle at the Vermont Democratic Party's unity rally Wednesday.

At the Democratic Party's unity rally Wednesday morning, the party prepared for its effort to put the first woman in the governor's office since Madeleine Kunin left it in 1991.

The Democratic campaign for governor didn't get as divisive as on the Republican side, but there were some rhetorical spats about corporate campaign contributions and Sue Minter's alleged connection to the Northeast Kingdom EB-5 scandals.

If there were any hard feelings between Minter and runner-up Matt Dunne, they weren't apparent Wednesday morning.

Dunne introduced Minter and the two shared a long hug before Minter's speech, which touched on some of her major priorities for the campaign ahead.

"We can have a place where young people want to stay and come to Vermont, where equal work means equal pay, a future where a great education isn't just a dream — it is our Vermont promise," Minter said to applause.

Full Results From Tuesday's Primary

Rep. Kesha Ram, who lost the race for the party's nomination for lieutenant governor, took note of the fact that the primary included Democratic women on the ballot for lieutenant governor and governor, along with many races across the state. She mentioned an earlier exchange she had with Minter at a Waterbury wine bar.

"Way back when, we sat on the porch of Cork in Waterbury and said 'If you want to build a pipeline, you have to get down in the trenches.' We have to have more women run and lead," Ram said, "and Sue you have led the way. Thank you."

Credit Taylor Dobbs / Vermont Public Radio
Chittenden County Sen. David Zuckerman won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

The Democrats also welcomed their nominee for lieutenant governor. David Zuckerman hasn't always been a Democrat, and the progressive farmer beat out the establishment candidate, House Speaker Shap Smith, for the nomination.

Zuckerman's campaign got a boost when Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed him in the race.

In an interview, Zuckerman said Sanders' popularity showed a desire among the political left for new ideas.

"And the Democratic party I think is working to work those things out," he said. "And Bernie's success and my success I think provide real opportunities for the Democratic Party to carry forward many of these small-p progressive values and issues."

"Bernie's success and my success I think provide real opportunities for the Democratic Party to carry forward many of these small-p progressive values and issues." — David Zuckerman, Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor

The biggest applause of the event wasn't for Minter or Zuckerman, though.

After Shap Smith announced a campaign for governor last year, he dropped out of the race because his wife Melissa was diagnosed with cancer.

He entered the lieutenant governor's race earlier this year, but the campaign fell short on election day. Zuckerman beat Smith by 4,450 votes (6 percent of votes cast), according to Associated Press data.

"It has been a tough year," Smith said from behind a podium. He paused, then repeated himself quietly. "It's been a really tough year."

He started to speak, then broke into tears.

"Melissa, I love you so much," he said, motioning for her to join him at the podium.

Credit Taylor Dobbs / Vermont Public Radio
House Speaker Shap Smith embraced his wife Melissa Volansky, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, during his speech at the Democratic Party unity rally in Burlington.

 The couple shared a tearful hug before he went on.

"But you know what? A lot of Vermonters have tough years," Smith said. "A lot of Vermonters struggle every day to make their lives better."

He told the Democrats to keep those Vermonters in mind in the months ahead.

"That's who we're fighting for," he said. "We're fighting for the people who are struggling to do better, to make this place a better place for their kids, to make this a better place for their grandkids, to rebuild this state. We are Democrats because we are looking out for them."

With Smith out of the race, it's now up to Minter, Zuckerman and the rest of the Democratic Party to make that pitch to voters ahead of November's election.

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