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Senator Bernie Sanders endorses in Vermont’s Democratic primary

The primary, a rare opening in the state’s delegation, could result in Vermont’s first woman lawmaker in Congress.

FILE - Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., questions witnesses during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine an update on the ongoing Federal response to COVID-19, June 16, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sanders, the last challenger eliminated as President Joe Biden clinched the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is making his own Iowa trip this weekend to rally striking workers at construction and agriculture equipment plants. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

WASHINGTON—Senator Bernie Sanders waded into his home state’s at-large congressional race on Wednesday, announcing he will endorse Vermont state Senator Becca Balint, who he described as a progressive willing to challenge the status quo.

The race is for Vermont’s sole congressional seat, currently occupied by Representative Peter Welch, a progressive Democrat who announced late last year that he is running for the Senate to replace Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who is retiring. The primary election will be held Aug. 9.

“Becca Balint does the work. In Becca’s years as a state senator, she has been a voice for rural Vermonters and proved again and again that she is a champion for the working class,” said Sanders in the endorsement statement, which was obtained exclusively by The Boston Globe. “Becca understands that if we are going to combat the existential threat of climate change, establish universal health care and mental health care for all, create good paying jobs in Vermont and protect American democracy, we need leaders who have the courage to challenge the status quo. Becca has that courage.”

The race may provide Vermont, which is the last state in the union to have never been represented by a woman in Washington, with its first-ever female member of Congress. At the Democratic debate scheduled for Wednesday night, four candidates will navigate questions as they vie for the nomination: Balint, who serves as state Senate President Pro Tempore; Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray; Sianay Chase Clifford, a former fellow in the office of congresswoman Ayanna Pressley; and Louis Meyers, a physician.

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The contest is dividing Democrats in the small, progressive state. Gray has racked up supporters including former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, who was governor of Vermont, and former Governor of Vermont, Madeleine Kunin, the only woman to hold that seat. In 2020, when Gray was running for her current seat of Lieutenant Governor, she received an endorsement from high-profile progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren. (Warren has not endorsed in this congressional race.) Leahy has not endorsed in the race, but said through a spokesman he thinks “highly” of Gray.

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Still, it’s Balint, who has been attracting significant support from the left in this Democratic primary. In addition to the Sanders endorsement, several other congressional progressives including Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland have backed her.


Lissandra Villa Huerta can be reached at lissandra.villa@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @LissandraVilla.