She's running. Democratic Lt. Gov. Molly Gray on Monday announced her candidacy for Vermont's lone U.S. House seat, seeking a congressional perch just one year after she won her first-ever election.
“Our workforce is shrinking, housing is unaffordable, families are forced to choose between caring for loved ones and paying the bills, and our next generation is struggling to make it work," Gray said in a statement announcing her run. "From affordable, quality child care to workforce development, I’m committed to working hard to bring real solutions to Vermont families."
Her campaign page went live Monday morning, and in an interview later in the day, Gray said she’s “running for Congress to be a champion for Vermont.”
Gray, 37, burst onto the scene in the Democratic LG primary last year by beating back a crowded field, including former Senate president pro tempore Tim Ashe. She went on to easily defeat Republican Scott Milne in the general election and took office in January.
Since her election, she's showed signs of interest in higher office, and has political allies in high places. She hired a political adviser the same month she was sworn in and flexed her fundraising acumen by hauling in $50,000 through June, records show.
Gray's been a mainstay at community events large and small, frequently sends out press releases about local and national issues, and went abroad this year to North Macedonia with a contingent from the Vermont National Guard. She also spent some of this summer and fall on a statewide Recover Stronger tour, in which she visited with community members and organizations in various towns. Gray has had support from big names in Vermont politics, and has connections to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), whose retirement announcement last month helped clear the way for her run.
After Leahy said he wouldn't run for another term next year, the dominos began to fall. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced his candidacy for Leahy's Senate seat, meaning no incumbent will be seeking reelection to Vermont's lone House seat for the first time since 2006.
Vermont has never sent a woman to serve in Congress, and Gray is one of several women looking to change that next year. Vermont Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden) and state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) have both expressed interest in running for the House seat, though neither has formally declared her candidacy.
Reached Monday, Ram Hinsdale said she’s been focused on getting ready for the legislative session and the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. But she also congratulated Gray on her announcement and hinted at one of her own in the near future.
“In general, I think this is clearly a time that requires big change,” Ram Hinsdale said. “We have rising costs of everything from health care to food; our window to take on climate change is closing rapidly; and the Republican Party is dismantling our democracy before our eyes and undoing some of our most basic rights. And I think with those big challenges, taking them on will require big vision. So I think you'll be hearing more from me soon.”
Asked about a run for governor next year or the lieutenant governor's seat Gray will relinquish, Ram Hinsdale made clear she’s got eyes on D.C.
“I always look for any way I can serve Vermonters, and at the same time, the most feedback I've gotten today is that people really want to have a sort of full job interview for who they send to Washington and be able to have a choice,” Ram Hinsdale said. “So I still think we're seeing a lot of excitement for the field to grow.”
Of the three names bandied about, Gray has the least political experience. She grew up on her family's dairy and vegetable farm in Newbury, and as a young adult, interned in Leahy's office. She worked on Welch's winning campaign in 2006, then stayed on as a legislative aide. Before her run for LG, Gray was employed as a Vermont assistant attorney general.
“I have a lot of deep experience to be incredibly effective in this moment, and that's what drives my decision,” Gray said. “It's the deep service to Vermont, working hard for Vermonters, fighting like hell for every corner of our state, and leading with my values, which are Vermont's values.”
Asked Monday about her decision to start a campaign for Congress less than a year after taking office, Gray said she’s “so deeply proud to serve as Vermont’s lieutenant governor.
“This is a moment where, for the first time since 2006, we have an open seat,” Gray said. “And we've got to decide who we're going to send to Washington. And this is a moment where Vermonters who want to run for office and who are deeply committed to serving our state, need to feel welcome saying, ‘Step up, lean in, get involved in this race, get involved in democracy.’ This isn't a time to tell people to step back or that you're not qualified.”
During last year's campaign, opponents attacked Gray for her lack of political experience. And Gray drew criticism when it was revealed that she hadn't cast a ballot between 2008 and 2018. She later said that she wasn't proud of her voting record and that former president Donald Trump's election was a "wake-up call."
"It's something that I have learned from," she said last year.
One year in to her term, she says she's ready for the next political challenge.
“Senator Leahy has set a strong example by always working together to get things done for Vermont, and that is exactly what I will bring to our delegation," she said in the statement. "I will strive to serve as he has, by bringing the values and voices of Vermonters to Washington.”