Vermont left divided on US House candidates – but united against Molly Gray

Clockwise from top left: State Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, Sianay Chase Clifford, Lt. Governor Molly Gray and Senate Pro Tempore Speaker Becca Balint, D -Windham. File Photos

Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray did not attend the Vermont Progressive Party state committee meeting on Saturday. But she was certainly a topic of conversation.

Three of Gray’s opponents in the Democratic primary for Vermont’s only seat in the U.S. House were there to seek the endorsement of the state’s third-left party. After introductory remarks from the candidates — Senate Pro Tempore Speaker Becca Balint, D-Windham, State Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden and Sianay Chase Clifford — the event turned to questions.

Party member Chris Brimmer asked: Would any of them run in the general election as a progressive candidate if the Democratic nomination went to Gray?

“I want someone on the ballot who will hold their feet to the fire,” he said. “And as far as I know, she’s 100% astroturf, and I really want to know where the money is coming from.”

Balint and Ram Hinsdale have said they will not run as third-party candidates if they fail to clinch the Democratic nomination. But they were still eager to shoot Gray.

“I think it would be an absolute disaster if the candidate representing us on the left was Molly Gray. She’s a corporate Democrat,” Balint said. “I think we’re starting to see exactly where his money is coming from. And that’s not a good thing.”

Ram Hinsdale said she spent “political capital” calling Gray’s donors. In an April fundraising email to Ram Hinsdale supporters, the campaign called for a $5,000 campaign contribution to Gray from a political action committee for American Crystal Sugar. (The missive, in particular, focused on the PAC’s generous donations to Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election.)

“People in DC are already looking at me, already angry, saying ‘(Ram Hinsdale) seems like someone who’s not going to be a team player. Big sugar isn’t so bad, big sugar gives to Democrats and Republicans,” Ram Hinsdale said.

Josh Wronski, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party, told VTDigger that neither Balint nor Ram Hinsdale are widely viewed by party members as progressive champions, although they are seen as allies.

“I think one of the arguments is absolutely, who is the strongest candidate to beat Molly? You know, who is the strongest progressive candidate who most reflects our values?” he said.

In an interview with VTDigger on Wednesday, Gray rolled his eyes at the phrase “corporate Democrat” and argued, “Vermonters want less labels and more action.”

“The biggest challenge right now with Congress is that we see Democrats attacking each other,” she said.

Her campaign has responded in the past to the scrutiny she has received for her donors by saying those relationships are a reflection of her time on Capitol Hill, where she was on the staff of U.S. Representative Peter Welch, D-Vt .

“I’m proud to have the support of Vermonters in over 210 cities,” Gray said Wednesday. “I’m also proud to have the support of many Vermonters in Washington DC and supporters of (US Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.) and Congressman Welch.”

Like Balint and Ram Hinsdale, Gray has embraced some of the iconic platforms of the national progressive movement, including Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. But she is nonetheless increasingly seen as the choice of the establishment.

DC insiders who fundraise on its behalf — and corporate lobbyists who have generously donated in kind — have drawn the attention of media and other campaigns. (Balint and Ram Hinsdale have also taken money from lobbyists, though far less.) And while Gray hasn’t explicitly identified herself as the race’s centrist, her campaign’s emphasis on her perceived strength in as a candidate in the general elections implies it.

The candidate, too, has sometimes drawn contrasts that cast her in a more subdued light. During a recent debate, for example, Gray went out of her way to say she didn’t support defunding the police and pointedly asked another candidate where she stood on the issue. “We need to invest in public safety,” Ram Hinsdale replied.

Balint and Ram Hinsdale, meanwhile, have been plotting for months to capture the party’s left wing. Both sponsored high-profile progressive legislation in the last legislative session — on preferential voting, for example, and a measure to ban qualified immunity. Both efforts failed.

The two also sought – and won – several major work endorsements. (Gray has received union support and could earn more.) Ram Hinsdale also received nods from former congressional candidate Nina Turner, co-chair of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign and chair of the U.S. House. Progressive US Caucus. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

Ram Hinsdale herself acknowledged on Saturday the hesitation some might feel about her, telling party members at the meeting that she might even have “the most complicated relationship” with progressives of all the candidates present. Ram Hinsdale did not elaborate, but she has clashed with the party in the past when she ran against Sen. Chris Pearson, D-Chittenden and former Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, both progressive stalwarts .

“At the same time, I think it’s fair to say that there’s probably no one who has spent more political capital to hold the Democratic Party publicly accountable – especially in recent years,” she said. said, noting, for example, the steps she took to criticize Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, her former boss, over police reform.

Balint also acknowledged that she was not a member of the Progressive Party, but said she was “completely aligned” with its platform and said her “top priorities” would be investments in housing, education. medicare for all, climate change, as well as reproductive rights and racial and economic justice.

“But basically the reason I’m showing up right now is that our democracy is completely and utterly in jeopardy right now,” she said. “We are watching the Republic slip away.”

Chase Clifford, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., caught on to the progressives’ apparent ambivalence toward Balint and Ram Hinsdale.

“There are candidates who have already run and who have not sought your support until now, until it becomes politically convenient. In this very first campaign, I reached out to all of you first,” Chase Clifford told party members at Saturday’s meeting.

But even if politicians on the left think Chase Clifford is the candidate whose values ​​most align with theirs, she also has the least likely path to the Democratic nomination. A recent survey of likely voters revealed that her vote was less than 1% and that she had raised a tiny sum compared to Gray, Balint and Ram Hinsdale.

Asked if she would remain on the general election ballot as a progressive, Chase Clifford said she would consider it.

Members of the party’s executive committee have until Friday to vote and decide who will get their endorsement. Wronski noted that an endorsement requires a two-thirds majority to agree, a threshold no candidate may meet.

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