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Vermont Democrats face historic decision in Liberal House primary

(CNN)of Vermont named as the only state without women in Congress In November, state Senate Speaker Pro Tempoa Becca Balint and Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray led the Democratic primary for the state's popular seats.

The winner of Tuesday's contest will be the overwhelming frontrunner in the general election to replace Senator Peter Welch, who was vacated by the departure of Senator Patrick Leahy. That month, voters will also vote on an amendment to the state constitution that protects abortion rights.

Balint, a former teacher who was first elected to state legislature in 2014, is widely seen as the frontrunner heading into Tuesday's election, where Gray is his closest rival. What started out as a crowded field has thinned in the past few months.Doctor Louis Myers is the only one actively campaigning after Sianay Chase Clifford resigned in July.

Gray's early momentum, a former Welch employee and Vermont Assistant Attorney General, appears to have slowed over the summer as his rivals cement progressive support. Balint's strength was tied to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a popular independent progressive in the state, and, importantly, he withdrew from the primary in May and immediately endorsed Balint. It was bolstered by the endorsement of State Senator Kesha Lamb Hinsdale, who It helps to consolidate the support on the left side.
The battle for Vermont's sole House seat was sparked by last November's Leahy announcement that he would retire at the end of his term after nearly 50 years of service. was Welch soon announced his candidacy to replace Leahy, which paved the way for a rare open-seat race.

Leahy does not officially endorse her Gray, but states that he donated to her cause and voted for her. His wife, Marcel Leahy, supported Gray, who also has the support of moderate former Vermont governors: Howard Dean and Madeleine Cnin.

Welch, who last won a seat in 2006, has largely avoided primaries except to celebrate women in the ballot.

Balint and Gray raised similar amounts of cash during the race, but Balint benefits from a larger outlay. This has been repeatedly criticized by Gray's campaign. Her PAC of the LGBTQ Victory Fund is the biggest player, backing Barrant, who is gay, and investing around $1 million on her behalf. The campaign arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucuses also spent nearly $200,000 of her on Balint.

Rich Clark, a professor at Castleton University and a pollster in Vermont, said branding was a more influential factor in the campaign because it rarely divided candidates on policy. said that it is

"I don't think this is the race in question," Clark said.

In fact, Gray and Balint worked closely together on nearly every major issue. But Balint has emerged as a progressive standard-bearer, drawing support from both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Sanders and neighboring Massachusetts. Washington Congressman Pramila Jayapal also supports Balint, along with other leading national figures on the left.

"I don't think there's a big space between them when it comes to policy, but when it comes to image, I think there is," Clark said. "Our high voter turnout was about 25% [in the primary], so I'm not talking about the real representatives of the Democratic Party in Vermont. It's the most enthusiastic, they tend to be progressive. There's a side."

Balint overtook Gray on the left side in clear support for stripping the police of disqualification to protect them from most private lawsuits. is non-committal, and recent debate suggests that she might support such a move if it reaches a wider range of public officials.

But they Trying to clarify differences in views on policing and drug policy, Balint's remarks at a forum with members of the Vermont Progressive Party in May provided the sharpest exchange of views in the debate.

At a rally with VPP members this spring, Balint said, "It would be an absolute disaster if the candidate representing our left was Molly Gray."

During the debate, Gray accused Balint of "negative attacks," after which Balint retracted his comments, but "never offered a personal apology."

"You can take advantage of tonight's opportunity if you want," said Gray.

Balint did.

"I'm sorry if that comment offended you," she said. "I apologize if you thought it hurt."