The decision of eight-term Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy to retire created a path for state Sen. Becca Balint to become the first woman Vermont sends to Congress. (Photo: Associated Press)
State Sen. Becca Balint won the Democratic primary for Vermont's lone seat in the House on Tuesday night, making her all but certain to be the Green Mountain State's first female member of Congress.
Balint, a progressive who ran with the backing of ultra-popular Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), defeated Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, a more mainstream Democrat who had the backing of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
The Associated Press called the race with Balint leading 61.2% to 36.4%, with 43% of precincts reporting.
Vermont, with its small number of congressional representatives - it had just two senators and a lone House member since 1933 - and lack of regular turnover has never sent a woman to Washington. But eight-term Sen. Patrick Leahy's decision to retire opened up an opportunity.
Rep. Peter Welch (D) quickly declared a run for Leahy's seat in the Senate, opening up his seat in the House. Balint, Gray and state Sen. Kesha Ram emerged as the major contenders, with Ram dropping out in May, allowing Balint to consolidate support from the state's sizable progressive voting bloc.
Sanders held three rallies for Balint across the state last month, and she also picked up endorsements from a host of national progressive and LGBT advocacy groups: the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Human Rights Campaign, and the LGBTQ Victory PAC and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) all endorsed her. She also had the backing of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a frequent point of ideological comparison for her supporters.
That support was more than enough to overcome Gray, who did pick up a late endorsement from Leahy.
Like the rest of liberal-leaning New England, Vermont is not afraid to back centrist Republicans, with GOP Gov. Phil Scott among the country's most popular officials. But Balint is considered a near-lock for victory in November.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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