Pictured above is Patricia Preston, freshly-minted Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor who has a very low public profile. She’s got no track record in politics, but offers some decent credentials from the nonprofit world. She offers an unconventional resumé for a would-be politico. At 36, she’s young for a statewide candidate.
Are you starting to get serious Molly Gray vibes? Well, there’s more.
Preston is a native Vermonter who grew up on a family farm far away from the cosmopolitan (read: Not Real Vermont) precincts of Burlington. She graduated from the University of Vermont. She spent time working in the international nonprofit arena.
Her initial campaign video is practically a carbon copy of Gray’s, not that Gray’s was anything exceptional. It leans heavily on personal biography. Open and close feature Preston speaking directly to the camera; in between are images of a rural road, the family farm, aerial shots of Vermont towns, the Statehouse, a classroom, renewable energy projects, herself walking outside, herself staring into the sun. The only remotely controversial images show a solar farm and a scale model of two wind turbines, onscreen for a half second or so each.
Which brings us to her Gray-like agenda. It’s long on bromides and short on specifics. It’s full of praise for her home state and a hazy vision for how to make it even better. What does she hope to do as LG? “…help Vermont rebuild a resilient, safe, and healthy future for our families and loved ones, our communities, and this incredible state.” Yeah, that’s the stuff.
Preston also has a spotty voting record, although she’s voted more often than Gray. Since 2008, she’s voted in every general election except 2014’s. But she’s only voted in two presidential primaries, and she’d never voted in a municipal election or state primary before 2020.
She told Seven Days that Gray was not a specific inspiration for her candidacy, but even her words could easily have come from Gray’s mouth: “I think that there are lots of paths to office. I think I have worked with a lot of really strong and inspiring leaders through my work at the VCWA.”
“VCWA” is the Vermont Council on World Affairs, which Preston has led for nearly a decade. At least Preston won’t have to answer uncomfortable questions about her residency.
I’m sure Preston made her own decision and is presenting herself as she is, not as a Molly Gray clone. But the similarities are many and obvious. The real question is whether Preston’s political trajectory follows Gray’s. Can she go from political unknown to running a nearly flawless campaign and winning, all in less than a year? That’s the real trick.
Gray enjoyed a significant edge in her connections to Vermont Democratic royalty — connections she consistently downplayed. She was in tight with the Pat Leahy and Peter Welch crowds. Her uncle Bill Gray managed Leahy’s 1986 campaign, ran for Senate himself in 1988, and was nominated by Leahy to a federal judgeship. She served on Welch’s first Congressional campaign in 2006 and spent time working in his D.C. office.
There’s no sign that Preston enjoys similar inside advantages, but she might be following Gray’s example in not mentioning them in favor of a pure, clean Daughter of Real Vermont narrative. If she’s got connections, they’ll show up in her next campaign finance report on March 15.
Either way, she’s in the race and she’ll go as far as her untested political skills can take her. There’s nothing inherently disqualifying about a candidate who has no previous political experience. Men are shameless about running for much more consequential offices with no political background: Bruce Lisman, Rich Tarrant, Jack McMullen. Jesse Ventura. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Tommy Tuberville. Herschel Walker. Paul LePage’s only experience before serving two terms as governor of Maine was as mayor of Waterville, which is not much different than being mayor of Rutland.
I could go on, but the point is made.
I can’t help but notice the similarities, but they’re irrelevant to Preston’s candidacy. Gray won, but her journey was highly unlikely. It’s not a template for political success. If Preston prevails it’ll be on her own merit, not because she bore a startling resemblance to the incumbent she hopes to succeed.
If a guy with a ponytail from Massachusetts can trick Vermonters into thinking he’s one of them and also lure them into believing he’s an actual farmer, then there’s no reason why a woman who is an original Vermonter and comes from a real farming family can’t win that same office.