Vermont Democrat Christine Hallquist is on the cusp of making history as America’s first transgender governor, — should she beat Republican incumbent Phil Scott (Don EMMERT)

Burlington (United States) (AFP) – When Christine Hallquist first told her children she wanted to run for governor, they were angry. When she told her former board of directors, they thought it was a joke.

Now, the Vermont grandparent is on the cusp of making history as America’s first transgender governor — if she beats Republican incumbent Phil Scott in the November 6 midterm elections.

Before the race, 62-year-old Hallquist was best known in her bucolic home state for leading the charge toward renewable energy, and as a pioneering American CEO who transitioned on the job.

Until 2015, she was officially Dave, father of three and husband of Pat.

Today, she is Christine, still living with Pat, and convinced that she can pull off an upset victory against a moderate and fairly popular Republican in a largely blue state whose most famous politician is Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist.

Jumping into state-wide politics has been a breeze compared to the life-altering events of her transition and its impact on her family, documented by her son in the 2016 film “Denial.”

“This is definitely not the hardest thing I ever did,” Hallquist tells AFP, sitting in a demure skirt and jacket at the Democratic Party’s cramped campaign headquarters in the lake-side city of Burlington.

“In 2014, I had cancer, I was sure I was going to die,” she says.

“When it came to transitioning, it was harder than facing my own death… So once you cross that threshold and I’m sitting here today, I’m just enjoying.”

– ‘Despot’ –

Crisscrossing the state, Hallquist is campaigning hard. But politics was never her goal in life. Instead, her passion was trying to solve climate change as CEO of a Vermont electricity cooperative.

Donald Trump’s 2016 election, she says, “changed everything.”

Having run an incendiary campaign, in office the president has sought to erode transgender rights, including an attempted military ban, roll back environmental protections and orchestrated a crackdown on immigration.

Neither has peaceful, rural Vermont, home to just 624,000 people, been cocooned from growing intolerance. White supremacist flyers, as well as racist and Nazi graffiti, have been reported.

Hallquist says it was hearing four Muslim girls perform slam poetry about being harassed, that made her decide to run, determined to counter a president she accuses of eroding American values.

“We have a despot,” she says, “doing all the classic things that an autocratic leader in a banana republic would do.”

Polls are few and far between in Vermont, so there is little objective data about her chances against Scott, who if defeated would become the state’s first incumbent governor ousted since 1962.

Hallquist trailed Scott 42-50 percent, with a margin of error of 4.86 percent, in a survey released by the Democratic Party on October 1.

The Republican holds a modest fundraising lead and after only two years on the job, some critics are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, not all of them particularly energized about Hallquist.

– ‘Unbelievable’ –

Trump is loathed in Vermont and while Scott has distanced himself from the president, Hallquist’s team hopes that Democrats and independents will flock to the polls to make a point and put her over the line.

Buoyed by her victory in a crowded Democratic primary, she sees herself as a role model and her candidacy as expanding America’s moral compass.

“I believe Vermont is a beacon of hope for the rest of the country,” she says.

Hallquist says her gender status is “not an issue for Vermont,” that it rarely comes up with voters and that for every death threat or vitriolic email, there are a hundred messages of support.

“Every time I go to an event… people cry,” she says. “I think there’s so much hope for the leadership that I’m providing in terms of people who were bullied in school.”

Modest and warm, she has seen her family survive her transition. She speaks glowingly of her children and credits spouse Pat with being her “image consultant” on what to wear on the campaign trail.

Her mom, Hallquist says, is also “elated and proud.” Never in a million years did she imagine as a child that she would be running for governor as Christine.

“Fifty years ago, I didn’t even know what a transgender woman was. It wasn’t until I was 44 years old that I even learned that there were other people like me,” she recognizes. “This is pretty unbelievable.”

Her hope for November is a blue wave, that “we look back at 2018 and say that’s when we made history, that’s when our democracy survived a despot.”

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