This story was updated at 12:17 a.m. Wednesday.
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% of precincts reporting, Zuckerman had 51% of the vote, while former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe had about 39%.
The other Democrats in the race, Bennington attorney Patrick Winburn, who won his hometown, had 8.3% and East Wallingford activist Ralph Corbo had 1.4%.
Scott easily bested his four primary challengers, and had 73% 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%.
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.
“Our strong victory tonight is a signal of things to come,” Zuckerman said in a speech Tuesday night to supporters at Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg, which he co-owns with his wife.
“As we look toward emerging from this crisis we must lead in a new way,” Zuckerman added.
“We must lead in a creative way, we must lead in an inclusive and innovative way,” he said. “Because if we only focus on what is happening now, we will miss opportunities to build a stronger, better and safer Vermont.”
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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% 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.
In an email to his supporters, Scott thanked the Republicans, Democrats and independents who voted for him in the primary.
“Moving forward, I’ll do my very best to provide you with a steady hand on the wheel as we navigate these unprecedented times and work tirelessly to emerge stronger as a state,” Scott wrote.
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.
“So I actually feel really good about the campaign. We told it like we see it, and I think good politics is served by that.”
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.
While senators proposed legislation to remove the exemption, Zuckerman offered an amendment to keep it in place until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found there was “a reliable DNA swab test” to check for genetic predisposition to vaccine allergies. At the time he said there is “disputed evidence” about whether vaccinations are safe for those who have allergic reactions.
But after his amendment failed, he contends that he ultimately supported the bill to remove the exemption, on a final voice vote. It is unclear where he fell on the issue as voice votes for individual senators are not recorded.
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.
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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.
Holcombe began campaigning last July, and had raised the most money in the Democratic primary — nearly $550,000 as of the last campaign finance filing deadline on Aug. 1.
Zuckerman and Holcombe had several shared priorities including lowering health care costs, fighting climate change and building out broadband to rural areas of the state.
But they took diametrically opposite positions on taxes at a time when the state faces a potential deficit of $330 million in fiscal year 2021 as a result of economic woes associated with Covid-19.
Holcombe avoided discussing new taxes and said she favored finding efficiencies in state government, or looking to federal dollars to fund new programs.
Zuckerman wants to raise the marginal tax on high-income Vermonters to fund initiatives to fight climate change and address the state budget gap.
Zuckerman has 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.
He has also chided the governor for proposing budget cuts during the pandemic, which has caused an economic downturn that has squeezed state revenues.
“Vermonters are struggling across the state and the question they have to ask themselves is, ‘How are we going to rebuild out of this?'” Zuckerman said during an interview late Tuesday night.
“The governor has already indicated for him it’s about cuts to many of the programs and education and services that the state provides. And that’s not the vision I have for the future, where we need to invest in Vermonters,” he said.
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% 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.
In addition, he organized a group of more than 30 Republican candidates, who originally called themselves “Agripublicans” to unseat Democrats in the Statehouse and statewide offices.
Klar did not respond to a request for comment about the results of the primary Tuesday evening.
Holcombe wouldn’t say Tuesday night whether she would consider another run for elected office.
“I’m not a politician, I want to just go make the world a better place,” Holcombe said. “I think we have serious issues around inequality and lack of opportunity. I think we don’t believe in our institutions in ways that are causing them to decay.”
“I’ll keep working on all those issues I care about,” she said. “I don’t know the best way to do it — talk to me in a week.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of funds David Zuckerman had raised by Aug. 1. It was $349,047. Also, it referred imprecisely to a statement he had made during a 2015 Senate debate over philosophical exemptions to vaccination requirements. At the time he said there is “disputed evidence” about whether vaccinations are safe for those who have allergic reactions.
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