Sianay Chase Clifford drops out of US House race

Sianay Chase Clifford speaks during VTDigger’s debate between U.S. House Democratic primary candidates at the Double E Performance Center in Essex on June 28. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Updated at 2:50 p.m.

With three weeks until the primary election, Democratic candidate Sianay Chase Clifford announced Tuesday morning that she is dropping out of the race for Vermont’s sole seat in the U.S. House.

A former aide to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Chase Clifford launched her campaign in March, three months after frontrunners Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint announced their respective bids.

Chase Clifford, 27, of Essex town told VTDigger she dropped out of the race due to a lack of funds. Throughout her campaign and even when early voting began on June 24, she said she was hopeful that she could continue fundraising and sustain her finances to the primary election.

[Commentary by Sianay Chase Clifford: Reflections from a failed candidate]

One of the key messages she wanted to send was that candidates could successfully mount a campaign for public office with few financial resources. 

“I think for my campaign, I really wanted to be able to tell the story that you don't need to do this with a lot of money and that regular people should be able to do this,” Chase Clifford said. “Unfortunately, what is really kind of sick and twisted about electoral politics is if that's your message, you still need money to be able to share that message.”

According to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Chase Clifford had raised $12,497 in the period between April 1 and July 1, spent $18,128 and ended the quarter with $429 cash-on-hand.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Vermont Progressive Party Executive Director Josh Wronski told VTDigger that he believes Chase Clifford “recognizes that this is becoming a tighter and tighter race.”

“I'm sure that weighed heavily on her decision and, you know, wanting to ensure that we have the most progressive voice possible in Congress,” he said.

Eric Covey, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, said that Chase Clifford’s name will still appear on the primary ballot even though she has ended her campaign. Some voters may have already cast their ballots for her, with early and absentee voting having begun late last month.

Sianay Chase Clifford marches in the Essex Memorial Day parade on May 28. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“Ballots are already printed and voters are already voting, so there's no way to remove the name of a candidate who has dropped out from the ballot itself,” Covey said.

He added that, for early voters who have already voted for Chase Clifford, there is no way to change their vote unless their ballot was defective for a different reason.

Chase Clifford described the timing of her exit after the start of early voting as an “unfortunate reality.” She wanted to stay in the race as long as she could, but ultimately had to withdraw.

“I kept feeling like, you know what? I can just work harder to raise more money, and it got to a point where I'm like, I cannot work any harder,” she said.

Chase Clifford said she does not plan to endorse any of the other candidates.

“I don't have a strong enough relationship with any of the candidates to feel comfortable doing that,” she said.

After news broke of Chase Clifford’s withdrawal Tuesday, Gray said in a written statement that “this primary and our democracy are better and stronger because of her candidacy.”

“There are many paths to public office, and Sianay’s experience and skills are important proof of that,” Gray said. “Throughout this primary, she has demonstrated a true commitment to progressive values, a thorough command of the issues, and an unmistakable clarity of purpose.”

Also in a written statement, Balint said of the news that “we have been lucky to have (Chase Clifford’s) voice in this race.”

“She understands the challenges Vermonters face and has the vision and courage to make real change for our state,” Balint continued. “I know she is going to make an enormous difference in our state, whatever she chooses to do next.”

Prior to her decision to suspend her campaign, Chase Clifford told VTDigger that she hoped to bring an “activist energy” to the primary contest, and ultimately, to Washington, D.C. During her months campaigning, she has made regular appearances at protests and rallies in the state in support of issues such as abortion access and gun safety. 

Sianay Chase Clifford addresses a crowd of participants at a community conversation at Jenna's Promise, a recovery community in Johnson on Friday, July 1. Photo by Lia Chien/VTDigger

Her progressive message and activism won her an official endorsement from the Vermont Progressive Party in June. Wronski said that the party has not yet decided on how to proceed in light of Chase Clifford’s withdrawal; Aug. 9 is just around the corner, and they don’t have another meeting currently scheduled until after primary day.

Wronski said the party could call an emergency meeting and cast an official endorsement vote between the remaining candidates, but the timeline would be tight. Endorsed candidates reap the benefits of the party’s voter database, which can help target messaging. It’s rare that the party provides candidates with financial support, Wronski said.

The endorsement vote in June was conducted as a ranked-choice vote, and Balint came in second to Chase Clifford by a “pretty close” margin, Wronski said. He added that “the party has made very clear that Molly Gray would be an absolute travesty to represent Vermont in Congress.”

Unlike Gray and Balint, Chase Clifford has not held political office — which she said was an asset. In the closely watched congressional primary, she called herself “truly a disruptive candidate.” 

“We need folks with a different type of perspective and experience that's not entrenched in the system that's broken,” Chase Clifford told VTDigger in an interview in late June.

While she has not been an elected official, she has worked in the halls of Congress and as a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation fellow in Pressley’s office. Before that, she served stints in the offices of former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

It’s in those positions that Chase Clifford witnessed “those backroom conversations we so often talk about,” she said during a July 6 debate on WPTZ, where politicians either “choose their values” or “choose to fall in line or make the easier decision.”

“The problem is not that people down there don't know what the issues are,” she later told VTDigger, referring to politicians in D.C. “They're just deeply, deeply comfortable with the status quo.”

Sianay Chase Clifford addresses a crowd of participants at a community conversation at Jenna's Promise, a recovery community in Johnson on Friday, July 1, 2022. Photo by Lia Chien/VTDigger

A former social worker, Chase Clifford pitched herself as adept at active listening in politics. 

“Being able to sit with a person and kind of sift through what’s being said to find the core emotion — that's key to social work, and something that’s really key to building meaningful relationships with people in politics, especially people who don't agree with you,” she said.

Dr. Louis Meyers, a physician at Rutland Regional Medical Center, is also vying for the Democratic nomination in the House race. Another former Democratic primary contender, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, dropped out of the race in May and threw her support behind Balint. 

Chase Clifford told VTDigger she does not know what’s next for her and is “thinking on it.” She plans to continue living in Vermont, which she called her home. She said she does not know if holding public office will be right for her if she needs millions of dollars to obtain any position.

“Sianay has a lot of potential and is going to do really big things in this state,” Wronski said. “She absolutely will be an elected official, a statewide elected official, at some point if she wants to be. I really believe that, because she has all the makings of a great leader in Vermont.”

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Lia Chien

About Lia

Lia Chien is a student at American University in Washington, where she is majoring in journalism and working on the student newspaper, the Eagle. A resident of Bolton, she also was the editor of the Profile at Mount Mansfield Union High school and comes to VTDigger as a Dow Jones News Fund intern.

Email: [email protected]

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