For the state that gifted us with socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), set a worldwide standard for maple syrup, and spawned Ben & Jerry’s latest political ice cream statement, Pecan Resist, Vermonters could not — or would not — transition the first major party transgender candidate for governor into the state’s loftiest office-holder.
Christine Hallquist lost her bid by 15 points to Republican incumbent Governor Phil Scott in a state that prides itself on a pioneering spirit, independent thinking, and perseverance. A bill for which she seems to be a tailored fit — with little wiggle room.
Her star was rising in the Green Mountain State as she sailed through the primary process, garnering 48% of the Democrat vote. She stuck to the mantra of Medicare for all, equal pay, prison reform, and the opioid crisis. She railed against President Trump, declaring him a “despot” that she would help remove from the presidency.
What went wrong?
In a Word: Media
Hallquist became known only for being the transgender-history-making candidate instead of by her impressive, albeit progressive, resume. Although she repeatedly denounced her gender status in the media, claiming that Vermont already knew and didn’t care about her personal life, it was a sticking point.
In a New York Times interview the day after her primary win, the reporter asked, again, if it mattered. She explained that only one person she met on the campaign trail asked the obvious question:
“He asked me, ‘Well don’t you think your transgender status is going to get in the way of you getting elected?’ And my answer was, ‘Nope.’ That was the extent of the conversation.”
It’s not about the one guy that wondered if Hallquist’s gender would play a role in the election; it’s the 146,352 who stayed silent and pulled the lever for Scott.
There were signs – but from pollsters who are more wrong than right in their predictions – that Hallquist was losing ground at an alarming rate since her historic primary victory in August. A poll conducted in October by Vermont NPR/Vermont PBS had Hallquist pulling a low 28% of likely registered voters.
Ellen Andersen, a professor of political science at the University of Vermont, weighed in:
“To be really blunt, unless something miraculous changes in the next few weeks, Christine Hallquist will lose this election, and she will lose it … by double digits.”
When pressed, Hallquist acquiesced and allowed the media to turn her into a “history-making” candidate. She accepted the idea of being the newest poster child of identity politics who had the brains and the drive to succeed for her party – but that wasn’t what the media wanted or needed from her.
During the same NYT interview, the reporter once again brought up her transgender status, and relayed that the Vermont Republican Party (VRP) considered her transgender status irrelevant.
Hallquist bristled, went on the defense, and claimed that tired mantra: “Oh, well you should know that is bigotry, and I am going to call that out. When you elect a candidate, you hear the candidate’s life story.”
But she had claimed earlier in the same interview that her candidacy was not about her transitioning. She missed the point and played into the advocacy media narrative.
Hallquist is the epitome of the progressive Democrats’ ideal candidate.
For clarity, VRP Chairwoman Deborah Billado stated, when asked of Hallquist’s gender-fluidity, “I’m not sure why that plays a part in this — we’re talking about two human beings that are running for an office.”
And her sentiments were mirrored by the Republican Governor’s Association. Here is that statement. No one disparaged her for her personal decisions – except the people of Vermont, who went to the polls.
The Real Christine Hallquist
Born David Hallquist in Baldwinsville, New York, Christine attended Catholic schools and went on to study electrical engineering. She is educated, married with children, and the former CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative. A warrior for climate change, legalization of marijuana, and transgender rights – Hallquist is the epitome of the progressive Democrats’ ideal candidate.
Vermont is, by all accounts, a quirky little state – a left-leaning Republican governor, mouthy progressive Independent junior senator, and a geezer of a senior senator who is a proud Democrat. Heck, almost every candidate, at one time or another, practiced a campaign tactic called the “Honk and Wave,” whereby they stand in traffic and wave for popularity honks. Yes, they are an idiosyncratic little group as are their elections, evading party line lever pulls.
Will Hallquist now drop back, review, and decide if she wants to make history or not? Running on a transgender platform was bit too narrow for all Vermonters to embrace, eccentric or not, as practicality is also a strong character trait of the hardy crew.
Although she was positive and strong during her concession speech – “This is not the end. This is the beginning.” – it appears Hallquist is still unsure of her place in the world. Perhaps she will regroup and resurrect a campaign appealing to all people from Vermont.