In the course of an hour today, Vermont’s Democratic Party went from divided loyalties among party faithful, young and old, who backed either TJ Donovan or Bill Sorrell for attorney general, to a room full of smiling, hand-shaking Dems.
Donovan held a press conference just 30 minutes before the party’s “unity rally,” which was scheduled before the uncertainty of the AG’s race became apparent. The purpose of the event was getting all of the state’s Democrats on the same page.
“About an hour ago,” Donovan said, “I called Attorney General Bill Sorrell, I congratulated him on his victory. … I not only conceded the race, I offered my commitment to work with Attorney General Sorrell on his re-election bid this November.”
In 30 seconds, standing next to his mother prominent Burlington Democrat Rep. Johannah Leddy Donovan, the Chittenden County state’s attorney bridged what had become a partisan divide.
While Donovan and Sorrell both ran aggressive campaigns, the 38-year-old state’s attorney said he’d put all of the rancor aside, and he would support Sorrell in the General Election.
“There’s no bitterness, there’s no regrets. I actually felt pretty good this morning,” Donovan said a mere 12 hours after the bleary-eyed candidate said good-bye to supporters at his campaign’s party at the Hilton in Burlington.
At that point, it was too close to call. Not all voting districts had reported, and with a gap of 600 votes, neither candidate was ready to declare victory or defeat.
The Donovan campaign regrouped at 8 a.m. and heard a few more results. That, Donovan said, was enough.
“This morning when there was about 13 towns out, I think we got reports from about four, that were many big towns, and the numbers stayed about a 600-vote difference, and there’s no reason to prolong this,” Donovan said. “That’s what I told Bill Sorrell this morning, that I would not drag this on. I don’t think a recount is warranted, I don’t want to do that to the party.”
So the candidate and his team made their way down the road to the VDP unity party. A smiling Sorrell gave media interviews near the edge of the crowd as Donovan greeted fellow Democrats, many of whom congratulated him on a campaign well run.
“It was a very hard-fought campaign by two people who wanted to be attorney general,” Sorrell said in an interview with VPR’s Bob Kinzel. “The voters have spoken and they want me to continue to be attorney general.”
VDP Chair Jake Perkinson introduced Donovan at the event to a burst of applause, louder than that for any other speaker, including Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy. The Chittenden County state’s attorney was quick to put party first.
“You know, I’m proud of the race we ran,” Donovan said. “We talked about the issues in this campaign that are not mainstream political issues. We talked about the issues of poverty, we talked about the issues of mental illness, we talked about the issues of substance abuse. Those are Democratic Party values, and that’s something I’m proud we brought to the rest of the state of Vermont in this campaign, folks.”
Shumlin reminisced about the unity rally he attended two years ago after winning a fiercely contested five-way primary. Primaries are good for the party, he said.
While much of the event’s focus was on the attorney general’s race, both Sanders and Leahy looked at national politics. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, took the opportunity to chide the GOP as the “right-wing extremist party.” He spoke about women’s issues, wealth disparities and proposed cuts to social services.
Leahy highlighted the contrast between Vermont politics and the fierce infighting plaguing Washington. He said he was proud of both Donovan and Sorrell, and he planned to mention their race to President Barack Obama next week as an example of how things should be done.
“Vermont does it differently than the rest of the country,” he said, “and we like it that way.”