Christine Hallquist Makes History As First Openly Trans Governor Nominee

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(CNN) Christine Hallquist's bid to become the country's first transgender governor will clear an historic hurdle on Tuesday.

Hallquist won the Democratic primary in Vermont, becoming the first transgender gubernatorial nominee for a major political party, a breakthrough of both substantial and symbolic importance for LGBT Americans, in particular the trans community, which has for so long been shut out of the highest levels of elected office.

In an interview with CNN's Don Lemon, Hallquist said the result didn't surprise her and noted Vermont's progressive record on civil rights issues. But like so many Democrats in 2018, she also pointed to Washington, DC, and President Donald Trump as her reason for jumping into a political campaign for the first time.

"There's a systematic attack and it's going to start with the most marginalized of the communities, so the fact that our President has gone after the transgender community is no surprise and I think everybody should be afraid," Hallquist told Lemon.

She also cast the current upheaval as an opportunity for new voices to emerge and reshape the conversation.

"People like myself and who normally wouldn't be in politics are rising up all over [pin response to Trump's election] and I think that's what healthy democracy looks like," she said. "I'm hoping that years from now we can look back and say, 'Isn't American democracy wonderful: we survived a death spot.'"

A former energy company executive, Hallquist had established herself as a trailblazer before entering politics. She transitioned publicly during her time as leader of one of the state's largest utilities, becoming the first CEO to do so while in the job, according to the Victory Fund, a political action committee backing Hallquist and "dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ people" up and down the ballot.

"My path to being my authentic self was certainly not easy," she said upon announcing her entry into the race earlier this year. "However, it's always been important to me to live openly and honestly. I chose to transition in a very public way because I felt I owed it to those at Vermont Electric Cooperative who put their trust in me."

Hallquist campaigned on a promise to build up renewable energy and boost the state's rural economy by expanding broadband access. Backed by the Justice Democrats, the same group that helped launch Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign in New York, along with the Working Families Party and Trans United Fund, Hallquist supports "Medicare for all," raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and has pledged to address racial disparities in the state's criminal justice system.

But as she told CNN in June, it was the public response to her transition that gave her the confidence to hit the campaign trail.

"I was sure I was going to lose my job. I was sure I was going to lose respect. But that didn't happen," Hallquist said. "So this describes the beauty of Vermont. Now I'm at this point where I can't do enough to give back to Vermont."

After outlasting a field of four Democratic hopefuls, one of them a teenage boy, she will now take on Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Scott regularly ranked among the most popular governors in the country early on in his two-year term, but his standing has taken a hit recently, particularly among conservatives, following his April decision to sign a bill tightening gun restrictions.

The race to unseat Scott mostly played out under the radar -- nationally and even within the state. A survey from Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS found voters saying as recently as a few weeks ago that they were unfamiliar with the incumbent's Democratic challengers. Hallquist, though, had the best name recognition numbers of the bunch, at 41%, 12 percentage points ahead of fellow Democrat Brenda Siegel. 

Hallquist is one of more than 400 LGBT candidates running in this cycle, a record according to the Victory Institute. This past weekend, Hawaii's Kim Coco Iwamoto fell short in her bid for the lieutenant governor nomination in the state's Democratic primary. Another trans candidate, Democrat Alexandra Chandler, is running in a crowded primary field for the chance to replace Rep. Niki Tsongas in Massachusetts' 3rd Congressional District. In 2017, Democrat Danica Roem made history with her election to the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming its first transgender member.

The campaign ahead in Vermont figures to be an interesting one, especially given that Hallquist has said she voted for Scott -- a "nice guy," as she put it in an interview with VTDigger -- in 2016. But like so many other Democrats this year, she came out of the gates framing her bid as a moral imperative: part of a broader effort to push back against President Donald Trump.

"This is not a time in American history to sit back and be apathetic," Hallquist said at her campaign kickoff. "We must be bold in the face of the headwinds from Washington, we must be bold in the face of continuing unpredictability from Congress, and we must be bold in the face of the chaos from the White House."

CNN's Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report


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