MONTPELIER — It seems impossible to turn on a television in Vermont these days and not, within minutes, see a political ad touting the candidacy of Becca Balint to be the first woman to represent the Green Mountain State in Congress.
Not surprising, really, when you consider that three political action committees recently spent more than $600,000 on ads backing Balint, the president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate. That’s almost a dollar per resident here in this sparsely populated state.
Despite having a reputation for progressive politics, Vermont has never elected a woman to the US Senate or House of Representatives. Much of that has to do with Vermont’s habit of changing their Washington representatives about as often as the Red Sox changed left fielders in the 20th century.
The current congressional delegation has served an average of 32 years and has a cumulative age of 237. Senator Pat Leahy is 82. The “junior” senator, Bernie Sanders, turns 81 in September. At 75, Representative Peter Welch is the baby of the bunch.
Last year, after Leahy announced he would not run for re-election, and Welch said he would run for Leahy’s seat, a half-dozen women, and a few men, threw their hats into the ring for Welch’s seat. The general consensus among political observers is that the two favorites heading into the Aug. 9 primary are both Democrats, Balint and Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray.
The most recent poll shows Balint with a commanding lead.
Both Balint and Gray are proficient fund-raisers, raising nearly $1 million for their campaigns. It was a lack of money that led another candidate, Sianay Chase Clifford, a former aide to Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, to drop out of the race.
Gray has denounced the PAC money backing Balint, but them’s the breaks.
Running as a progressive, Balint has racked up endorsements from some of the movement’s standard bearers: Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
While Gray touts having worked for both Leahy and Welch, and they have appeared in her TV ads which are almost as ubiquitous as Balint’s, both have consciously avoided endorsing anyone. Leahy’s wife, Marcelle, a woman held in high regard throughout the state, and Madeleine Kunin’s, the former and only female governor of Vermont, endorsed Gray, who is liberal but more politically moderate than Balint.
There is no living soul who knows more about Vermont politics than Garrison Nelson, the Elliott A. Brown Green and Gold Professor Emeritus of Law, Politics and Political Behavior at the University of Vermont. Gray is a former student, and while Nelson is fond of her, if he were a betting man he’d bet on Balint going to Washington. He said the Sanders endorsement is huge in Vermont.
“Balint’s ads are better,” Nelson said. “There’s some gravitas there. Becca talks about what she’s done. Molly is talking about what she’ll do.”
Nelson also believes the conservative majority of the Supreme Court, and the sudden threat to marriage equality rights that has emerged after Roe v. Wade was overturned, has handed Balint another edge.
Balint is a lesbian, raising two children with her wife, Elizabeth Wohl. Balint has skin in the fight to protect marriage equality against legal attacks that goes far beyond rhetoric and resonates deeply in Vermont. Indeed, many of the new plethora of TV ads endorsing Balint are paid for by the LGBTQ Victory Fund Federal PAC.
Nelson believes that if, as he expects, Balint wins the primary and trounces whoever emerges as the Republican candidate, the threat to marriage equality is an issue that could propel Balint into a much higher profile than a typical first-term member of Congress.
“She could be the newest member of ‘The Squad,’ " he said, referring to the group of progressives that initially was comprised of Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib.
That would fly in Vermont.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized the endorsement of Sianay Chase Clifford. Clifford has said she has no plans to endorse a candidate in the race. The Globe regrets the error.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.