Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat, will face off against Republican Gov. Phil Scott in the November general election after scoring a victory over the three other candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday.
By midnight, with 96 percent of precincts reporting, Zuckerman had 51 percent of the vote, while former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe had about 39 percent.
The other Democrats in the race, Bennington attorney Patrick Winburn, who won his hometown, had 8.3 percent and East Wallingford activist Ralph Corbo had 1.4 percent.
Scott easily bested his four primary challengers with 73 percent of the vote as of midnight. John Klar, a farmer and attorney from Brookfield — and Scott’s most notable challenger in the primary — had 22 percent.
Zuckerman, an organic farmer and longtime ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders, now seeks to unseat Scott, one of the most popular governors in the U.S.
Scott, a moderate Republican who is seeking a third term, has received bipartisan support for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis. A poll released last week by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS found that 83 percent of Vermonters approved of the governor’s management of the pandemic.
While he hasn’t been actively campaigning — and hasn’t needed to, thanks to twice weekly Covid-19 press conferences — Scott has said his leadership is critical to ensuring the state recovers from the public health and economic crises caused by the pandemic.
Holcombe said she felt good about her gubernatorial campaign after the AP called the race Tuesday evening.
“We never said anything we didn’t believe in and we fought hard for equity of opportunity, for a sustainable future, for the green environment that we care about,” Holcombe said.
Zuckerman has served as lieutenant governor since 2016. Before then, he served for 18 years in the Legislature including seven terms in the House and two in the Senate.
Over the years, he has championed progressive policies including a $15 minimum wage, instituting a wealth tax on Vermont’s richest residents and legalizing marijuana.
As a state senator, he spearheaded legislation that made Vermont the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified ingredients. The state statute was later undermined by a change in federal legislation.
Zuckerman has also been lauded by opponents of vaccines, who in 2015, championed his support for a philosophical exemption that allowed parents to opt out of public school vaccination requirements.
In the 2020 primary campaign, Zuckerman sought to downplay his stance, but Holcombe used it as the basis for a negative TV ad campaign and repeatedly attacked the lieutenant governor.
Scott, who has been focused on mitigating the public health impacts of Covid, is likely to use the issue against the lieutenant governor in the general election.
Zuckerman wants to raise the marginal tax on high-income Vermonters to fund initiatives to fight climate change and address the state budget gap, and hhas criticized Scott for blocking a $15 minimum wage, vetoing Democratic-backed paid family leave programs, and failing to invest in broadband expansion and the struggling state college system.
Winburn, who ran a long-shot bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, poured more than $200,000 of his own money into the race. A political novice, he came away with 8.5 percent of the vote.
Klar, who ran against Scott on the right, argued that the governor has alienated conservative Vermonters by supporting a series of gun control laws in 2018, and broad abortion rights protections in 2019.
He also pitched a plan to expand Vermont’s agricultural sector by cutting taxes and regulations on farmers.
Klar criticized the governor’s attempts to address systemic racism in Vermont, and received national attention for his proposal to paint the words “Justice For All” next to the Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Montpelier.
His proposal was rejected by the Montpelier City Council.
Lt. Governor race: Milne versus Gray
Political newcomer Molly Gray swept past Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and two others Tuesday to capture the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. She will face travel executive Scott Milne, who outpolled Meg Hansen and three others for the Republican nomination.
Gray, an assistant attorney general, beat out Ashe, Chittenden Sen. Debbie Ingram and Brenda Siegel, an activist and former gubernatorial candidate.
The Associated Press called both races around 10 p.m.
With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting, Gray was maintaining a lead of more than 11 percentage points over Ashe, with the others farther back.
In a statement, the 36-year-old Newbury resident thanked her fellow Democratic candidates and said she is “humbled by the support” for her candidacy.
“I entered this race because now is the time for the next generation of Vermont leaders to step forward and to ensure that rural communities have a strong voice in Montpelier,” said Gray, who also is an adjunct professor at Vermont Law School.
The Ashe campaign said the outgoing Senate leader was not available for comment Tuesday night.
Milne, the president of Milne Travel who narrowly lost a bid for governor in 2014, was gaining just more than half the vote on the GOP side. Hansen, a health care advocate and communications specialist, had about 33 percent of the vote.
Milne said in an interview just before the race was officially called Tuesday night that he was successful running on his record as a businessman and his hope of working with Gov. Phil Scott to rebuild the state’s economy.
“What the election is about, as is the primary I believe, is who the most qualified candidate to be a trusted partner for Gov. Scott,” Milne said. “I’m going to just keep with our message of ‘I look forward to putting three decades of experience owning a small business and being relatively successful with it.’ ”
Early on in the campaign, Gray received support from Vermont’s Democratic establishment, including former Gov. Madeleine Kunin and others. In contrast, her top rival, Ashe, positioned himself as the political outsider — despite his 12 years in the Vermont Senate.
Between when Gray announced her candidacy in January and the end of July, she had raised $213,680 — more than double Ashe’s total haul.
Gray will now meet Milne, who has run two statewide campaigns in the general election and who has already aligned himself with popular Gov. Phil Scott — who has endorsed him.