Politics

Isaac Evans-Frantz doesn’t want the US Senate race to be a ‘coronation’

Isaac Evans-Frantz, left, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, marches in the Essex Memorial Day parade in Essex Junction on May 28, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Isaac Evans-Frantz knows that he’s up against a political giant.

Come Aug. 9, Evans-Frantz is set to face off against U.S. Rep. Peter Welch for the Democratic nomination to be Vermont’s next U.S. senator.

Welch inarguably has a leg up. He has served as Vermont’s sole representative in the U.S. House for 15 years, and has socked away in his campaign fund nearly $3 million. Within hours of Welch announcing his intentions to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont’s junior senator and fundraising powerhouse Bernie Sanders endorsed Welch’s bid for the upper chamber.

Evans-Frantz knows he doesn’t have the political incumbency, nor the structural and monetary support, that Welch does. But he also resents the prevailing idea that Welch’s victory in the Democratic primary and November general election could be a forgone conclusion — or, as he puts it, a “coronation.”

“I'm not willing to accept the idea that this election is for sale, that this is an auction,” Evans-Frantz told VTDigger. “We live in a democracy. This is a small rural state where people vote. I believe that Vermonters deserve to have choices.”

Evans-Frantz was born and raised in Brattleboro, and first got involved in politics when then-Gov. Howard Dean appointed him as a student member of the State Board of Education. 

After attending Oberlin College in Ohio, Evans-Frantz attempted to get work back in Vermont but struggled to find a job. Over the years, he worked as a public and reproductive health educator and campaigned in Congress against the war in Yemen. He moved back to Vermont with his husband roughly two years ago.

In their policy stances, Evans-Frantz and Welch often overlap. Both support Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Both have called to codify Roe v. Wade in federal law to protect abortion access nationwide. And both have called to abolish the filibuster in order to get Democratic priorities across the finish line in a divided Senate.

“Don't get me wrong, I make no secret of the fact that I like Congressman Welch and I think he's done a decent job. I think he's served Vermont well,” Evans-Frantz said. But, he added, “I think we need new leadership.”

He pointed to Welch’s history of accepting corporate PAC donations in campaigns past. This campaign cycle, Welch has sworn off the practice. But he retains his multi-million dollar campaign war chest, lined with donations from the likes of Ford, General Electric, Home Depot, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Toyota and others.

Evans-Frantz, a rookie campaigner, has made a point to launch his political career with a pledge not to accept such contributions.

“I think that it's important that we walk our talk,” he said. “We need people who are willing to stand up, who have not been at all compromised by the entrenched system that we have. … I think we need voices that are not beholden to those corporate donors.”

Evans-Frantz cited Sanders as an inspiration. “Bernie is an activist,” he said. “He's a movement builder. He shows up on the picket line. … It's not just helping those people, but it's also helping push the envelope and helping expand the conversation, expand what is politically feasible.”

Evans-Frantz has been fundraising and traveling the state since launching his campaign in early April. He is scheduled to appear Wednesday in a debate hosted by VPR and Vermont PBS. 

On Tuesday, he earned the endorsement of the Vermont Progressive Party. 

Evans-Frantz said he’s “in it to win it.” He said he sees his role in the U.S. Senate primary — like Sanders did in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2016 and 2020 — as building grassroots support and changing the political playing field.

“Congressman Welch is a progressive voter. I see myself as a progressive leader,” he said.

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Sarah Mearhoff

About Sarah

Sarah Mearhoff is one of VTDigger's political reporters, covering the Vermont statehouse, executive branch and congressional delegation. Prior to joining Digger, she covered Minnesota and South Dakota state politics for Forum Communications' newspapers across the Upper Midwest for three years. She has also covered politics in Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she is a proud alumna of the Pennsylvania State University where she studied journalism.

Email: [email protected]

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