Political newcomer Molly Gray Tuesday was overwhelmingly elected as Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor, only the fourth woman in Vermont to hold the position, gathering a victory that showed the power of ideas and the appeal that comes from a promise of unity and collaboration.
Ms. Gray’s political trajectory has stunned the state’s political insiders. She has never held elected office. She had no name recognition. When she beat Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, State Senator Debbie Ingram and well-known political activist Brenda Siegel in the Democratic primary it was considered an upset of improbable proportions. Ms. Gray is the first person in recent memory to have won election to either of the state’s top two statewide positions without having first served in elected office.
Vermonters, obviously, were looking for a fresh face with new promise, a new leader to address challenges both present and future.
Ms. Gray was also helped by the choice of her opponent, Republican Scott Milne, to run an almost completely negative campaign, one that focused on efforts to impugn Ms. Gray’s character. Mr. Milne’s campaign ripped a tired page from the Republican playbook that assumed voters didn’t care about the issues and would tolerate gutter politics.
Mr. Milne also struggled to raise enough money to be competitive, forced to contribute almost $290,000 of his own money to be competitive. For a supposed successful businessman, it raised questions as to just how strong his appeal was. After all, this was his third attempt to be elected. He had a high name recognition factor and the all-in support of Gov. Phil Scott, the politician with the state’s highest favorability rating.
Nothing worked. The Milne campaign hurled mud ball after mud ball, but nothing stuck. Mr. Scott’s coattails didn’t exist. The Milne campaign never found a way to tarnish Ms. Gray and it looked mean-spirited and petty in trying. Negative campaigns don’t fare well in Vermont as a general rule, but they most particularly don’t work when the candidate has the sort of appeal Ms. Gray has, which is based on integrity and the transparent will to do good things. Mr. Milne ended up looking like a bully and off-target.
But the power of Ms. Gray’s victory goes beyond the pettiness of Mr. Milne’s campaign. She is now in the position of being able to drag the Democratic Party back towards the political middle and away from the Progressives, who basically only use the Democratic Party when it’s convenient. The progressives are political takers, not givers, and they need to be shown the door. [The progressives’ “strength” was shown for what it is in the governor’s race between Mr. Scott and David Zuckerman. Mr. Zuckerman, a progressive, lost by 42 points. That’s not being beaten, it’s being slaughtered. ]
Ms. Gray is the progressive’s worst nightmare, which is why Sen. Bernie Sanders chose not to endorse her while endorsing every other Democratic or Progressive office seeker, 36 in total. The reason? Ms. Gray represents the party’s mainstream whereas Mr. Sanders and the progressives represent the far left. Ms. Gray has the platform, and the strength, to convene people of the same ilk, Vermonters who can be problem solvers, people who want to bring politics back into a space that allows for collaboration.
Mr. Scott, by the way, is offering much of that same example and purpose. He did so when he announced that, as the head of Vermont’s Republican Party, he voted for Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden. He’s not a person of the far right, just as Ms. Gray is not a person of the far left.
This is the environment presently most advantageous to Vermont. It’s less politically divisive and more enabling when it comes to resolving the numerous challenges ahead.
by Emerson Lynn