Thanks to the historic dimension of her candidacy, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Christine Hallquist suddenly finds herself thrust into the national spotlight.
"We're drowning," said campaign manager Cameron Russell. "We're just trying to field as many [interview requests] as we can."
It's a nice problem to have.
Hallquist, former CEO of the Vermont Electric Coop, won Tuesday's four-way Vermont primary with more than 40 percent of the vote, according to unofficial totals from the Secretary of State. Her nearest competitor, water quality advocate James Ehlers, was a distant second at 19 percent. The result means that Hallquist is the first openly transgender person to win a major-party nomination for governor.
The media interest began building in the days before the primary, but hit full force as Hallquist's victory became official. "She was on CNN last night and [Wednesday] morning," said Russell. "She's been interviewed by NPR, the BBC, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, MSNBC, TMZ and Fox."
Newspapers and media outlets around the country and the world have featured Hallquist in coverage of the state primaries that were held on Tuesday. Vermont news media have seen a sharp rise in site visits; a Seven Days profile of Hallquist, published in 2015 at the time of her gender transition, has been read more than 10,000 times in the past week — the vast majority in the hours since her victory became certain. The Drudge Report, a news aggregation website, prominently featured a Burlington Free Press recap of Hallquist's primary win Tuesday night.
The outside attention focuses on Hallquist's gender identity, which could prove to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, she will receive a significant boost in donations from LGBTQ and progressive groups. "Our community is ecstatic," said Elliot Imse, spokesperson for the LGBTQ Victory Fund. "We've already seen more than 1,000 of our supporters sign a digital congratulations card for her" as of late Wednesday morning.
On the other hand, it could prove a distraction from the business of running for governor. Hallquist has been careful to run on the issues, not her identity. Russell acknowledged a necessary balancing act — riding the wave of attention without letting it dominate the narrative. "We want to make sure that Vermonters know this is about Vermont, and the issues we face," said Russell.
The Vermont Democratic Party is planning a unity rally Wednesday evening in Burlington. The third-place finisher, antipoverty activist Brenda Siegel, will be there and will endorse Hallquist, according to Siegel's campaign manager Teddy Waszazak. Ehlers has yet to offer his support; in fact, at his primary-night gathering, he talked of a possible run as an independent.
(The filing deadline for independent candidates was August 9, so it's too late for Ehlers to get his name on the ballot. He could run as a write-in candidate.)
The fourth Democratic hopeful, 14-year-old Ethan Sonneborn, finished with a respectable 7 percent of the vote. He immediately promised to campaign on Hallquist's behalf. In a Wednesday morning tweet, he urged Ehlers to do the same.
@James_Ehlers should not run as an independent. @christineforvt is our nominee. Last night I called christine to offer my support. I know that James is disappointed, I am too. But Democrats have spoken and the race is over. We must work as a united party to defeat @GovPhilScott
Ehlers could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Democratic unity or not, the tsunami of media attention will give Hallquist a golden opportunity to raise money and boost her name recognition. Her gender identity remains a potential wild card, but at least she's got that card in her hand.