Primary Source: Vt. primaries could heal or reveal party rifts

  • John P. Gregg. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2020 9:29:07 PM
Modified: 8/5/2020 9:29:00 PM

As Vermonters head to the polls, or in many cases have already sent in their mail-in ballots, for next Tuesday’s primary, some political fault lines are starting to emerge in top-of-ticket races in both parties.

Having won his current position as both a Democrat and a Progressive, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman is garnering a chunk of the progressive and union support in his gubernatorial contest against former Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, of Norwich.

Zuckerman, a Hinesburg resident, won the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., though it wasn’t a surprise, given their long alliance, but he’s also had to answer questions about his unsuccessful efforts in 2015 to protect a philosophical exemption for vaccines for children.

For her part, Holcombe has mainstream backing from the likes of former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin; state Rep. Kevin Christie, D-Hartford; and former Vermont Democratic Party Chair Dottie Deans, of North Pomfret, but is a newcomer to electoral politics.

Bennington trial lawyer Patrick Winburn is also on the ballot.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Newbury, Vt., native Molly Gray, an assistant attorney general in Vermont, has drawn surprising support from the Democratic establishment, with backing from former Gov. Peter Shumlin and former Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, among others.

But Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, of Burlington, who also is both a Progressive and a Democrat, has support from a number of his Senate colleagues, including state Sens. Jane Kitchel, D-Danville, and Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown.

State Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Williston, and Brenda Siegel, D-Newfane, are also on the ballot for lieutenant governor, with Siegel having the backing of 2018 gubernatorial nominee Christine Hallquist.

Longtime state Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, is supporting both Zuckerman and Ashe but acknowledges that some Democrats in Vermont are wary of the Progressive Party.

But McCormack said there is substantial common ground among Democrats and Progressives. “The two parties may be different in the degrees of intensity, but fundamentally we are on the same side, and (I say) let’s not split our ranks,” he said.

In the Republican primary, Gov. Phil Scott is facing a challenge from his right from Brookfield farmer and attorney John Klar, but the incumbent has also drawn praise for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. A new VPR/Vermont PBS poll this week found 83% of Vermonters approve of how Scott has managed the crisis.

In the GOP race for lieutenant governor, North Pomfret travel executive Scott Milne won the endorsement of former Gov. Jim Douglas and has shied away from President Donald Trump, while his opponents by and large have backed Trump. Among those also running are Meg Hansen, of Manchester; Dana Colson, of Sharon; Jim Hogue, of Calais; and Dwayne Tucker of Barre Town.

New Hampshire Senate race

The two Democrats running for the New Hampshire Senate District 5 seat that stretches from Lyme to Charlestown are campaigning hard before the Sept. 8 primary, which has also exposed a bit of a power struggle between the Hanover-Lyme part of the district and more moderate communities such as Claremont and Lebanon.

Former state Rep. Beatriz Pastor, D-Lyme, has won the backing of outgoing state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, and former state Sen. Peter Burling, D-Cornish. But Lebanon City Councilor Sue Prentiss, a career paramedic and executive director of the American Trauma Society, is assembling support from first responders in the district, a key voting bloc. Her backers also include Enfield Selectboard Chair Kate Plumley Stewart and Claremont City Councilors Allen Damren and Nick Koloski.

In a recent forum last month, Pastor acknowledged that Prentiss had co-chaired Democrat Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire, but also noted that she had been a Republican until the Trump era.

“One does not become a committed, effective Democrat overnight,” Pastor asserted. “That has to do with knowledge and it has to do with experience.”

But in her endorsement of Prentiss, state Rep. Sue Almy, the Lebanon Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said, “I know she shares the most deeply held values of our party and our region.”

Briefly noted

Victoria Xiao, an incoming Dartmouth junior and one of nine candidates who filed to run in the Democratic primary for four seats representing Hanover and Lyme in the New Hampshire House, has decided to end her campaign. Although her name remains on the ballot, she said she would decline to serve if elected. Another Dartmouth classmate, Riley Gordon, remains in the race, though he acknowledged that last month he was at home in New York because of Dartmouth’s decision to close its campus to undergraduates until the fall term.

■ The latest Granite State Panel poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center shows that 60% of respondents in the state disapprove of Trump’s job performance, the worst rating in his presidency. In other polling, 54% of respondents said they would vote for U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., over either of her GOP opponents. And at least 58% of likely voters said they would support Republican Gov. Chris Sununu over his two Democratic challengers.

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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