By XANDER LANDEN, ALEXANDRE SILBERMAN and KEVIN O’CONNOR
Christine Hallquist, a former utilities executive, became the first transgender candidate in the nation to be nominated by a major party in a governor’s race, scoring a clear win over three Democratic challengers in primaries on Tuesday.
“We made history,” Hallquist told reporters after the Associated Press called the race at about 9:30 p.m. “Now we’re going to go on and make history in November.”
After winning Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, Hallquist, 62, of Hyde Park, faces a new challenge: an uphill battle to unseat Gov. Phil Scott in the November general election.
As of midnight, the Vermont Secretary of State’s website had unofficial results of Hallquist winning more than 40 percent of the vote, beating leading competitors James Ehlers, Brenda Siegel and Ethan Sonneborn by comfortable margins.
Supporters and dozens of journalists packed into the Skinny Pancake restaurant in Burlington, where Hallquist hosted her victory party Tuesday evening. National media have trailed Hallquist in recent weeks, drawn to the historic nature of her run.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hallquist was humble about the prospect of her momentous primary win as the first transgender candidate to launch a gubernatorial race.
“I’m honored and I’ll be a first and there’ll be second and there’ll be a third, but eventually this will not be a news story,” she said in an interview outside the polls in St. Albans Tuesday afternoon.
“But, that said, I don’t think you ever make it here on your own. I’m riding the shoulders of thousands of Vermonters before me that have fought for what is right and just,” she added.
Hallquist, who stepped down as CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative to run for governor, says that in her bid to beat Scott, her strategy will focus on touting her plans to spur economic development, particularly in rural areas.
“The offensive is going to be talking about the long-term vision for our economy,” she said. “Because I don’t think Phil has any long-term vision for the economy. And there’s so much opportunity in growing rural Vermont.”
Hallquist has pitched an ambitious plan to expand broadband to every home and business in Vermont by changing the statewide system for installing fiber optic cables.
She says that by shifting that responsibility from rural internet service providers to electric utilities, it will lower the cost of bolstering internet access.
In her victory speech, Hallquist acknowledged that Scott will be a tough challenger in November, noting that he has the financial backing of the Republican Governors Association. In recent weeks, the RGA has poured more than $1 million into a political action committee to support Scott. More than $200,000 of this war chest has already been spent on political advertisements.
“We’ve got to double down and we will double down,” she said in her speech.
But she says her campaign has already succeeded in reaching voters across the state.
“Just like we’ve got to take care of every marginalized community … we’ve also got to take care of every one of our communities,” she said.
“The reason this message has resonated is because it’s the right message and because it’s the just message. And every single person, regardless of where you come from, has a right to a bright future.”