As a practice, Sen. Patrick Leahy has deferred from making endorsements in the Democratic primary. There is little upside given that he is expected to campaign for whichever Democrat wins the primary. Why take sides when the feathers of the candidates not picked would be ruffled?

Vermont’s senior senator departed from his tradition last week when he made public his support for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, and not her primary challenger Becca Balin. Not only did he explain why he chose Ms. Gray in her bid for Vermont’s lone U.S. House seat, he wrote Ms. Gray a check for $5,000.

In other words, let there be no question as to the depth of his support for Ms. Gray.

Mr. Leahy also took the opportunity to decry the outside PAC money being poured into Ms. Balint’s campaign: “I have been deeply concerned about the flood of outside money in the House race. These are two qualified women who are capable of running their own races without outside interference. I think Vermonters will judge if this outside spending is welcome in such an important campaign. I believe it is wrong and should have no place in our elections,” he said.

Mr. Leahy voiced his concern because the PAC money in question - from the LGBTQ Federal Victory Fund, Equality PAC and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC - has totaled more than a million dollars. When Mr. Leahy said “flood” he was not exaggerating. That’s more than the Balint campaign has spent in the eight months leading up to the primary. And it’s all come at once in the form of television spots, digital ads and mailers. The PAC money has saturated Vermont.

It was expected that outside PACs would  forge their way into Vermonters’ lives, which is why Ms. Gray asked Ms. Balint to agree to condemn the PAC money from the outset and to publicly stand with Ms. Gray each time the PAC money was identified. Ms. Balint agreed, but, obviously, did not follow through. [That’s understandable since that’s all they would have been doing these last several weeks.]

Mr. Leahy made it clear outside PAC money is injurious to the political process. He believes it is largely responsible for the divisiveness that marks Congress. Anyone who speaks to the senator with any regularity knows one of his biggest laments is the growing antipathy between the parties, watching as important legislation falls apart because there is no political middle to hold things together.

Mr. Leahy took the unusual step of showing his support for Ms. Gray because he believes her abilities best match what the House needs most, and what Vermonters want most, which is a natural bridge from one party to the other. The political extremism - from both parties - accomplishes nothing.

Ms. Balint’s PAC money, and her willingness to embrace the endorsement of the progressives, i.e., Sen. Bernie Sanders, puts her on the left-wing of the party, which, by definition is not a bridge to much of anything, except a sea of rhetoric.

Mr. Leahy’s support of Ms. Gray has nothing to do with experience, or lack thereof, in the legislative realm. Ms. Balint’s experience in the Legislature has little to no bearing on what is expected in the U.S. House. It’s not legislative experience that matters, it’s judgment, it’s figuring out how to make things work. It’s about the willingness to sacrifice a little political capital to make the hard choices, choices that would not bring cheers from the far left, but choices that would move us forward as a nation. 

Knowing how to get things done is Mr. Leahy’s signature achievement. Take a look at what he has been able to secure for Vermont in the past several months. He’s done that for almost a half-century. His accomplishments are not the stuff of partisanship, they are part of being able to establish productive dialogues with the opposing party. Mr. Leahy has made the judgment that between Ms. Gray and Ms. Balint, Ms. Gray would be best able to follow along that same productive path for Vermont. 

As the U.S. Senate’s most senior member, Mr. Leahy’s endorsement of Ms. Gray should be meaningful for Vermonters who prefer progress to political posturing and who oppose Ms. Balint’s outside-of-Vermont million-dollar PAC campaign. 

By Emerson Lynn


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