Updated at 6:48 p.m.
Vermont’s junior U.S. senator and national progressive political powerhouse Bernie Sanders has endorsed state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint’s run for Congress, dramatically altering the playing field of the state’s most hotly contested Democratic primary race.
The move comes less than five weeks before the Aug. 9 primary election, with early voting already underway.
Sanders has, until this point, stayed out of the fray in the Democratic primary to replace U.S. Rep. Peter Welch in Vermont’s lone seat in the U.S. House. (Welch is running to replace U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in the upper chamber.) Balint’s top contender in the race is Lt. Gov. Molly Gray.
Reached minutes after Sanders’ endorsement went public, Balint said she was “jumping up and down” with excitement. The details were hammered out earlier on Wednesday.
“I'm so honored and so pleased to have his support,” Balint said, calling Sanders “someone who has been such a champion for working Vermonters and for working families across the nation.”
“I feel like the work that I've done here in Vermont, supporting working families, is something that Bernie noticed, stuff that he really cares about,” she continued. “He's somebody that has deep moral clarity. So the fact that he felt like the message of our campaign was really resonating with him is just — it actually makes me kind of teary.”
In a press release from Balint's campaign, Sanders pointed to the state Senate leader's track record in the Legislature, saying Balint “does the work.”
“In Becca’s years as a state senator, she has been a voice for rural Vermonters and proved again and again that she is a champion for the working class,” Sanders said. “Becca understands that if we are going to combat the existential threat of climate change, establish universal health care and mental health care for all, create good paying jobs in Vermont and protect American democracy, we need leaders who have the courage to challenge the status quo. Becca has that courage.”
Gray was not available for an interview after news of the endorsement broke. In a written statement from her campaign, she responded to the endorsement by saying, “The great thing about our state’s democracy is that it is Vermonters who decide elections.”
“As Vermont’s Congresswoman, I’ll work with our statewide leaders and entire congressional delegation to do what is right for Vermont,” she wrote.
While Balint and Gray have each garnered high profile endorsements for their respective primary bids, a nod from Sanders could be a game changer. Thanks to his two presidential runs, Sanders’ name recognition — and donor base — stretches nationwide.
Balint said Wednesday that her campaign won’t know how Sanders’ endorsement may translate to campaign contributions “for the next few hours and days and weeks.”
“The endorsement itself is just hugely important to me,” Balint said. “But of course, I imagine given Bernie's incredible support, not just in Vermont but across the nation, it could mean a big swell of donations to our campaign. We just don't know yet.”
While Sanders holds unique sway with Vermont voters, his recent nods in other states have seen mixed results. In a closely watched Democratic primary this spring to represent a southern Texas congressional district, progressive challenger and Sanders endorsee Jessica Cisneros fell 289 votes short of defeating incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar. The race garnered national media attention thanks to Sanders’ endorsement of Cisneros, Cueller’s steady support from establishment Democrats and Cueller’s anti-abortion stance.
Neither Leahy nor Welch has endorsed a candidate in the House race. In a written statement Wednesday afternoon, Leahy’s spokesperson David Carle reiterated the senator’s well-documented support for Gray, who interned for the senator during college.
“Senator Leahy thinks highly of Lt. Governor Gray who served in his office,” Carle wrote. “He trusts Vermonters to decide who will represent them in Congress.”
Dozens of Balint’s legislative colleagues have endorsed her candidacy, including state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, who was also running in the congressional primary before dropping out in late May. Balint has also won the endorsements of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Equality PAC, Moms Demand Action and other organizations.
Gray, meanwhile, has won the endorsements of major statewide political figures like former governor and 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean and former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, who went on to serve in the Clinton administration. Gray also secured the support of the Vermont State Employees Association last month.
Also appearing on the Democratic primary ticket alongside Balint and Gray will be Dr. Louis Meyers, a physician at Rutland Regional Medical Center, and Sianay Chase Clifford, who previously worked in the congressional office of U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. Chase Clifford has been endorsed by the Vermont Progressive Party.
Clarification: A previous version of this story omitted the candidacy of Dr. Louis Meyers.
2022 Election Briefs
- Update voter registration by Aug. 31 to guarantee mailed ballot, secretary of state says (August 25, 4:15 pm)
- Bernie Sanders endorses David Zuckerman’s bid for lieutenant governor (August 1, 6:14 pm)
- 2nd poll shows Becca Balint well ahead of Molly Gray (August 1, 5:15 pm)
Missing out on the latest scoop? Sign up for Final Reading for a rundown on the day's news in the Legislature.