Vermont's primary season comes down to the wire

Poll of likely Democratic primary voters shows big support for Balint, Welch, Zuckerman

BRATTLEBORO — There are several contested races in the Aug. 9 Democratic Party primary, but the bulk of the attention has been focused on one race and two candidates.

Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray are the clear frontrunners in the contest to decide the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Peter Welch, who is running for his party's nomination for the U.S. Senate seat of the soon-to-retire Patrick Leahy.

Two progressive Democrats, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale and former Congressional aide Sianay Chase Clifford, dropped out the Democratic primary. Ram Hinsdale threw her support behind Balint, while Chase Clifford declined to support either candidate.

While Louis Meyers, a South Burlington physician who previously ran an unsuccessful campaign for state senate from Chittenden County, is the other remaining candidate for the U.S. House seat in the Democratic primary, recent polling suggests he will finish far behind Balint and Gray.

A survey of likely voters in the Democratic Primary, done in July for WCAX-TV by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, found that 63 percent would vote for Balint, while 21 percent would vote for Gray, and 2 percent would vote for Meyers. Only 13 percent said they were undecided.

Even with the UNH survey's 5 percent margin for error, it was a surprising result for a race that has been closely contested for months.

Earlier polling in January by VPR and in April by UNH, when five candidates remained in the race, showed it as a toss-up between Gray and Balint.

Equally surprising was another finding of the UNH survey - 72 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Balint, while 42 percent viewed Gray favorably.

In the U.S. Senate race, Welch received 82 percent support in the UNH survey, while progressive activist Isaac Evans-Frantz got 6 percent, and physician Niki Thran got 1 percent.

In the Republican Party primary, there appears to be no clear-cut frontrunner in the Congressional races, according to the UNH survey.

In the Senate race, Gerald Malloy, a veteran and political newcomer, was the pick of 30 percent of respondents, while former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan got 24 percent and investment banker Myers Mermel got 2 percent. Forty-two percent said they were undecided.

The margin for error in the Republican poll was 7 percent, due to a smaller sample size, according to the UNH data.

The House race is even more fluid, with 60 percent of respondents saying they were undecided. Burlington accountant Ericka Redic was supported by 15 percent of likely voters, while Liam Madden, an independent candidate running in the Republican primary, got 14 percent, and Anya Tynio, who was the party's nominee in 2020, got 9 percent.

Poll looks at State House races

The UNH survey also looked at the four-way race for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary, which found that 38 percent of likely voters would support former Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

Former state Sen. Kitty Toll got 23 percent, while nonprofit executive Patricia Preston got 7 percent, state Sen. Charlie Kimbell got 4 percent, and 23 percent said they were undecided.

In the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Joe Benning got 33 percent support from respondents, while pro-Trump conservative Gregory Thayer got 20 percent, and 47 percent of Republican voters said they were undecided.

While Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic anti-poverty and opioid policy activist Brenda Siegel do not face opposition in their respective primaries, the UNH survey looked ahead to the November general election.

The poll found that, as of July, 60 percent of respondents would back Scott and 16 percent would support Siegel.

Scott enjoys strong support from Democrats, 51 percent of whom said they would vote for the incumbent governor in November. By contrast, 21 percent said they would support Siegel and 22 percent said they were undecided.

Among Republicans, Scott had 80 percent support.

The voters' mood

The UNH survey also asked what Vermont's Republicans, Democrats, and independents thought were the most pressing issues facing the nation.

Ninety-four percent of Republicans said inflation was either the top, second, or third most important issue, while 58 percent of independents and 25 percent of Democrats agreed.

For Democrats, 72 percent said climate change was a top-three concern. Only 43 percent of independents and 12 percent of Republicans agreed.

Forty-eight percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents thought that partisan polarization was a top-three concern, while only 30 percent of Republicans thought so.

On abortion, 40 percent of Democrats, 35 percent of independents, and 27 percent of Republicans said it was a top-three concern.

Gun violence was a top-three concern for 51 percent of Democrats, 21 percent of independents, and 20 percent of Republicans.

Fading from public concern is the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 12 percent of Democrats and 3 percent of Republicans thought it was a top-three issue.

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