Christine Hallquist did it.
The 62-year-old became America’s first-ever transgender gubernatorial nominee on Tuesday night after winning a four-way Democratic primary that saw a number of outsider candidates enter the ring. Her challengers include Brenda Siegel, the executive director of a local dance festival, and Ethan Sonneborn, a 14-year-old student.
With 39 percent of precincts reporting, Hallquist appears to have triumphed by a significant margin — leading her closest competitor by 23 points. The former electric company executive bested Siegel, who finished in second, 46 percent to 23 percent.
After the Associated Press officially called the race for Hallquist, LGBTQ advocates hailed her victory as historic.
“Christine’s victory is a defining moment in the movement for trans equality and is especially remarkable given how few out trans elected officials there are at any level of government,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, claimed in a statement. “Many thought it unthinkable a viable trans gubernatorial candidate like Christine would emerge so soon.”
“Yet Vermont voters chose Christine not because of her gender identity, but because she is an open and authentic candidate with a long history of service to the state, and who speaks to the issues most important to voters,” she claimed.
Despite not having a background as a politician, Hallquist was widely expected to win this week’s primary race.
Although a July poll from Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS found that most state residents weren’t aware of which Democrats were taking on incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Hallquist far outstripped her opponents in name recognition. Forty-one percent of Vermonters were familiar with her campaign, as opposed to the 29 percent who said the same about Siegel.
At a time when Americans are increasingly seeking nontraditional political candidates, Hallquist brings decades of experience in the business sector to the race. When she transitioned three years ago at the Vermont Electric Cooperative, she became one of America’s first transgender CEOs.
In conversation with INTO earlier this year, Hallquist claimed that she chose Pride week of June 2016 to come out publicly because she wanted to make the “biggest impact for the LGBTQ community.”
“I had 13 other CEOs from Vermont companies march with me,” she said in April. “The support I received was incredible.”
If elected in November, Hallquist will be one of just a handful of trans people to ever hold public office in the United States. Currently, there are 13 elected trans politicians serving at the state or local level.
These names include Virginia’s Danica Roem, who became the first openly trans person to win statewide office in November 2017 when she beat incumbent Bob Marshall by nearly eight points. Marshall, the self-described “homophobe” who authored the state’s failed anti-trans bathroom bill, refused to refer to his opponent by female pronouns throughout the race.
Meanwhile, the city of Minneapolis made history twice in last year’s special elections by electing Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham, the country’s first two trans people of color to sit on a city council.
But Hallquist will face a steep climb if she hopes to join those ranks.
Despite being a conservative governor in one of America’s most progressive states, her November opponent has long been extremely well-liked among Vermonters. Until July, Scott’s approval rating from the Morning Consult poll sat at 65 percent — good enough to make him rank among the nation’s top 10 most popular governors.
But the market research firm’s most recent poll shows the incumbent may be unexpectedly vulnerable to a challenge: Scott’s numbers dropped 18 points between April 1 through June 30.
Meanwhile, his disapproval rating doubled, clocking in at 42 percent in the July survey.
“That net 38 point drop is the biggest quarterly shift since Morning Consult began polling the subject in May 2016,” Morning Consult reported three weeks ago. “It was also enough to knock Scott out of his place in the top 10 — which he had shared with popular blue-state GOP Govs. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland — and place him three spots from the bottom 10.”
The widely respected research company pointed to Scott’s support for gun reform legislation following an attempted school shooting in Vermont as reason for the erosion in his ratings — citing a 26-point plummet among conservatives.
Scott is poised to easily beat challenger Keith Stern on Tuesday, but supporters will be rooting for Hallquist to use her momentum to go all the way.
“The DNC is proud to congratulate Christine Hallquist, Vermont’s Democratic nominee for governor and the country’s first-ever openly transgender nominee for governor, along with all of tonight’s Democratic nominees in the Green Mountain State,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez in an email.
“Christine’s historic victory tonight is an inspiration to LGBTQ people everywhere, and we are excited to stand behind her and the entire slate of fantastic Democratic nominees in Vermont,” he added.