Chris Graff

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In making her closing argument to voters, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray told New England Cable News that “the choice Vermonters have is: do they want to send the next member of “The Squad’ or the Congressional Progressive Caucus to Washington? The next Bernie Sanders?

“Or do they want to send the next Pat Leahy or Peter Welch? Someone who’s a pragmatic Democrat, who has a track record of working across the aisle?”

Vermonters resoundingly answered that question last Tuesday — and it should be no surprise. They want a member of the Squad. They want the next Bernie Sanders.

Vermonters love a fighter. With only one seat in the 435-member House, Vermont has chosen mavericks like Jim Jeffords and Bernie Sanders to represent them. They want someone to stand up and stand out.

And truly both Leahy and Welch have built their careers around fighting. Leahy, after all, embraces the superhero image of Batman, and he led the fights against the Bush administration on so many fronts. Remember this is the guy who was told to go f—k himself by then-Vice President Dick Cheney when Leahy challenged Cheney on his ties to government contractor Halliburton.

And Welch has made a centerpiece of his congressional career the belief that “if you fight for progress not for credit, you can actually get things done.” Welch has captured the current moment by declaring that today “our democracy is at stake.”

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“We are at a critical moment in the country and a critical moment in our democracy,” he has said.

Becca Balint’s campaign was in sync with this moment and in sync with Vermonters’ desire to fight for change.

Gray launched her campaign on the theme of fresh leadership. “Let’s send the next generation of bold Vermont leadership to Washington,” she said. That message seemed in sync with the political mood.

But over time her message became muddled as she instead honed in on her experience in Washington, experience that was not so apparent to voters. And then she focused on the special interests backing Balint but it was hard for Vermonters to see gay rights and progressive groups in the same light that big oil might be viewed.

And in the end — in a year in which the main goal was to break down a barrier for women by electing the first congresswoman from Vermont — voters reached even higher and chose the first gay woman.

Chris Graff, a former Vermont bureau chief of The Associated Press and host of VPT’s “Vermont This Week,” is author of “Dateline Vermont: Covering and uncovering the newsworthy stories that shaped a state — and influenced a nation.” The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.