After winning her Democratic primary in Vermont on Tuesday night, Christine Hallquist could become the first transgender governor in United States history—if she manages to overtake incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott in a challenging race.
But Hallquist managing to land a gubernatorial nomination from a major political party is itself historic, LGBT advocates say. Indeed, one year after Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia state legislature, Hallquist’s primary win is being seen as further proof that transgender candidates can succeed.
“Christine’s victory is a defining moment in the movement for trans equality and is especially remarkable given how few out trans elected officials there are at any level of government,” Annise Parker, president of the advocacy group Victory Fund, said in a statement. “Many thought it unthinkable a viable trans gubernatorial candidate like Christine would emerge so soon.”
“On to November,” Hallquist, who did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, wrote on Twitter as news of her win broke. “Thank you for all your support—this is Vermont’s victory!”
Hallquist is a former energy company CEO who came out as a transgender woman in 2015 after living in Vermont since 1976. If she wins the gubernatorial election in November, she will not only be the first transgender governor but only the second governor to be elected while out as LGBT. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who took office in 2015, is bisexual. (Former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey came out as gay in August 2004 in the midst of a political scandal and resigned shortly thereafter.)
But Hallquist herself previously told The Daily Beast that she’s more interested in setting a different sort of precedent: becoming the first gubernatorial candidate in Vermont to beat an incumbent in over 50 years.
The former head of Vermont Electric Coop came to the decision to run for governor in the aftermath of the presidential election of 2016 and the subsequent Women’s March of 2017. In an interview with The Daily Beast that took place in the build-up to Tuesday night’s primary, she said she was motivated to run, in part, by the resurgence of racism and white supremacy in the Trump era. The potential disadvantage she might have as an openly transgender candidate, she said, did not give her pause.
“When I made the decision, this is what went through my head,” she told The Daily Beast. “Thousands of people before me have died for their freedom. The least I can do is risk financial ruin.”
Hallquist transitioned while still at VEC and is fond of saying on the campaign trail: “I want to remind everyone, running for governor is not the greatest challenge I have ever faced.”
Still, it’s not all that often that Hallquist highlights her transgender status. She told The Daily Beast that she is planning on running a gubernatorial campaign focused not on whatever glass ceilings she might happen to break in November but on the concrete issues—in her case, a $15 minimum wage and universal health care.
“In Vermont, I’m going to get elected because of what I do for Vermonters,” she said, noting that when she talks to local press, she remains laser-focused on her progressive platform.
At the same time, Hallquist is aware of the overwhelming national media interest in the historic nature of her candidacy—and she says she doesn’t mind it.
“Nationally, I appreciate the significance from the civil rights side and I’m happy to talk about those issues nationally as well, and even internationally,” she told The Daily Beast. “It’s just a matter of keeping those two separate.”
Victory Fund, which endorsed and supported Hallquist along with several other transgender candidates this cycle, will continue to advocate for her during the gubernatorial campaign. In a statement, the advocacy group highlighted the fact that she would be the 14th openly transgender individual in elected office nationwide—and the highest-ranking of all of them.
“Christine’s business experience and progressive vision for Vermont mean she’s perfectly positioned to take on Governor Scott,” Parker said in her statement.
But Hallquist faces steep odds as a Democratic candidate. Most 2018 gubernatorial election forecasts place Vermont squarely in the red.
On one hand, Gov. Phil Scott—as Morning Consult noted—has seen his disapproval rating double over the course of 2018, largely due to Republican discontent over his signing of recent gun restrictions. That slip in the support on the right, through, may not translate into votes for a progressive candidate—and Morning Consult has also learned that Scott has a 61 percent approval rating among Democrats.
But Danica Roem, who beat a Republican Virginia delegate last year to become the first openly transgender person elected and seated in a state legislature, knows from firsthand experience that Hallquist still has a shot.
“If anyone tells you the Republican incumbent is too entrenched for you to defeat in the general election… yeah, about that,” she joked on Twitter. “Go win.”