Editor’s note: VTDigger reporters Alicia Freese, Nat Rudarakanchana and Andrew Stein contributed to this article. The story was updated at 5:51 a.m. Nov. 7.
Sanders and Welch win congressional seats by 70 percent
The party had hardly started at the Vermont Democratic Party headquarters when the news came: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, had won.
CNN reported the news shortly after 7 p.m. as several hundred Democrats hit the bar and began a five-hour huddle around wide-screen TVs in a ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in Burlington.
It was nearly 10 p.m. before Shumlin acknowledged his victory even though aides told the press he was ready to give his acceptance speech at 8 p.m. His rival, state Sen. Randy Brock, didn’t concede the race until well after the incumbent governor, flanked by his two daughters, Becca and Olivia, pledged to “get back to work first thing tomorrow morning.”
Earlier in the evening, Brock said he didn’t believe the exit polls. “I haven’t seen any real numbers,” he told reporters. “And again maybe it’s the former state auditor in me, I’d really like to see some real numbers that have substance and meaning and once we see the numbers the numbers will speak for themselves.”
By 11 p.m., it was all but over, not just for Brock but for all the Republicans on the statewide tickets with the exception of Phil Scott, the incumbent lieutenant governor.
But the biggest loser on Election Day appeared to be Lenore Broughton, the publicity shy, conservative Vermonters First super PAC funder who plowed nearly $1 million into an advertising campaign that aimed to persuade voters that Democrats are spendthrifts who support a future in which Vermonters face higher taxes and rationed health care. The messages, which were ubiquitous on the radio and TV airwaves, didn’t penetrate enough to turn the tide of the election.
In the treasurer’s race — what former Gov. Howard Dean called the “referendum” on super PACs — Beth Pearce, the Democrat, beat her Republican rival Wendy Wilton by 10 percentage points, according to early reporting from the state’s town clerks. The downticket race was the most contentious election this campaign season, and Broughton fueled Wilton’s campaign with at least $165,000 in support through independent advertising.
With 75 percent of precincts reporting, Shumlin had 56 percent of the vote, while Brock won 40 percent of the ballots cast, according to unofficial results from the Vermont Secretary of State’s office.
At the end of the night, it appeared that Vince Illuzzi, the longtime Republican state senator from the Northeast Kingdom, lost by just 3 percentage points to Doug Hoffer, a Progressive/Democrat from Burlington.
Bill Sorrell, the incumbent Democratic Vermont attorney general, won 57 percent of ballots cast, while Republican Jack McMullen received 35 percent of the vote and Progressive Ed Stanak appeared to have 5 percent.
The Vermont Democrats also strengthened their position in the Vermont House of Representatives. The party added two seats to their “supermajority,” for a total of 96 seats. Only two Democrats lost: Peg Andrews and Eldred French. Republicans lost Jim Eckhardt, a Republican from Mendon; they also lost seats in St. Johnsbury and St. Albans.
In the Senate, early results show that 18 Democratic incumbents appeared to be headed back to the Green Room, while Republicans Richie Westman, Peg Flory, Kevin Mullin, Joe Benning and Diane Snelling held their own. In Chittenden County, the only newcomer added to the list of five incumbents is David Zuckerman, a former House representative who won on a Progressive/Democrat ticket. He takes the place of Sen. Hinda Miller, a Democrat. The jury is still out on Dustin Degree and Norm McAllister, who in early results, appeared to be ahead of Democrats Caroline Bright and Don Collins in Franklin County, and Robert Lewis, who is in a tight race with Democrat John Rodgers in Essex and Orleans County.
Even a controversial ballot measure, the “fiscal stability bond” that will pay off $9 million of Burlington Telecom debt and raise Burlington property taxes by $58 on a $250,000 home passed. The bond issue was heavily promoted by Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger.
President Barack Obama’s win likely gave candidates with a “D” behind their names an extra boost.
Shumlin: “Don’t doubt my resolve”
Gov. Peter Shumlin’s victory came as a foregone conclusion to the Democrats waiting to hear whether Obama would survive an aggressive challenge from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican in the race.
By the time Shumlin spoke to supporters, the news was somewhat anti-climactic. In this odd campaign season where downticket races were more contentious than the race for governor, party faithful wanted to know: Who won the treasurer’s race?
Just two years after Shumlin squeaked past Doug Racine in the primary and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie in the General Election, it came as no surprise this election season that the Democratic incumbent, who has won high praise for his handling of the Tropical Storm Irene and has presided over the state’s economic recovery, would garner a second term.
His rival, state Sen. Brock, was widely criticized for his negative campaigning and a spate of attack ads at the end of the election.
Shumlin thanked Brock for his service as state auditor and his tenure in the state Senate before he launched into a recapitulation of his pledge to right Vermont’s economy, invest in renewable energy, “get off our addiction to oil,” create an affordable health care system and create more jobs.
“I understand my job as governor is to work for you,” Shumlin said. “We are leading the country out of the worst recession (in decades) and we’re on track to deliver high-speed Internet in 2013. We’re going to deliver on the promise.”
Health care, however, as is often the case, is Shumlin’s touchstone issue, and Tuesday night was no exception. The governor told supporters: “We’re going to be the first to have a sensible, affordable single-payer health care system where health care is a right not a privilege. We’re going to do it together. Don’t doubt my resolve to deliver on the promise.”
Shumlin alluded to the state’s budget gap of $50 million to $70 million this coming year and quickly shifted to his successful record on unemployment — Vermont has the sixth lowest rate in the nation.
“In 2011, Vermont is the only state that saw economic growth, it was only 4 percent, but 4 percent is better than the rest of America,” Shumlin said.
One concession, one victory speech at GOP headquarters
The mood was more subdued at GOP headquarters in Montpelier at the Capital Plaza Hotel. Republicans were impassive as news of their defeats in four of five statewide races began to filter in.
Members of the party quickly dispersed after gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock gave his concession speech and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott announced his victory. State treasurer candidate Wendy Wilton, state auditor candidate Vince Illuzzi, and attorney general candidate Jack McMullen all departed without taking a turn at the podium. A television broadcasting updates from the presidential race went largely ignored.
Early in the evening, there was a spurt of scattered applause when Republican House Minority Leader Don Turner announced that Republicans had taken three House seats from the Democrats — one in Fairfax and two in Rutland. Jack Lindley, chair of the Republican Party, announced, “The tide is turning. … Republicans are coming back.”
Lindley said this election, like others, was a learning experience.
“We did a good job of turning out votes with our phone calls but they weren’t necessarily the right votes for us to turn out,” Lindley said.
Lindley said he didn’t think the Republican platform needed doctoring. “The issue is we have to find candidates who can transcend partisan politics,” he said. To do so, Lindley said, the party will need to ramp up its recruiting by strengthening county and town committees “that have been allowed to slip by the wayside.”
Brock says he’ll stay in public service
In a brief speech to well-wishers, Brock called his defeat “the final chapter in the greatest experience I’ve had in my entire life.” He wished Shumlin success as governor, a role he described as an “important and august responsibility.”
“This was a campaign in which we talked about issues, was a campaign in which the dialogue remained civil, as it should be,” Brock said, adding: “I intend to continue to become involved, or remain involved, in public policy in Vermont.”
Pressed by reporters afterward, he wouldn’t specify how he’d remain active in politics, but he wouldn’t rule out another run for office. “I wouldn’t rule out anything at this point,” said Brock. “Tonight is the end of an election season. So it’s a little premature to say, with any certainty, what any of us are going to do in future.”
Brock said it was important to challenge Shumlin to defend his positions.
“When you make claims and cite statistics,” said Brock, “prepare for folks to scrutinize them, and to raise issues.”
He cited the formation of a commission to examine industrial wind and energy project siting as an example of how he’d effectively elicited a concrete response on an issue raised during the campaign.
“Even minority parties in Vermont and individuals who have public policy interests can make a difference, and can move government to look at their actions more carefully and perhaps re-study them,” said Brock.
Brock defended his final political ad, which was seen by some as negative.
“I believe it was civil,” said Brock. “I think it is absolutely appropriate for a campaign to synthesize the issues that are raised in the campaign and to point them out. It’s called a contrast ad. And I think the notion that it’s somehow incivil to use a campaign’s own words and images, I don’t think that’s incivil at all.”
Brock had no final words of advice for Shumlin. “I’m sure that the governor is doing what he believes is right and in the best interest of Vermonters. And Vermonters, based on the vote tonight, seem to agree.”
Scott: “It’s not easy being a Republican here”
In a speech peppered with race car driving analogies, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, the sole Republican victor in Vermont’s statewide races, urged GOP party members to “put your partisan stripes aside and do what’s best for Vermonters.” He sounded the main theme of his campaign: a nonpartisan, team-driven approach to politics, and he commended his Democratic and Progressive opponent, Cassandra Gekas, for helping to make the lieutenant governor race an “issues-driven campaign without negativity.”
Scott won with 58 percent of the vote; Gekas, who was talked into the race at the last minute and ran her campaign on shoestring, garnered 40 percent of the vote.
Scott recognized the “many, many folks here tonight that weren’t successful in their campaigns” and alluded to the greater struggles of the Vermont GOP Party.
“There are some who imply that the Vermont Republican Party has become irrelevant,” Scott said. “But tonight first and foremost, I need to say this: It’s a democracy. Every voice is important and no voice, no voice is irrelevant.”
Despite capturing a definitive 57 percent of the vote, Scott said, “It’s not easy being a Republican here.” Scott, unlike Brock and Lindley has made a concerted effort to work with Democrats. He is a member of Shumlin’s cabinet and frequently appears with the governor.
Euphoria over Pearce’s win
The Democrats were pleased by rousing speeches from Sanders, Welch and Shumlin, but the din from the crowd, which swelled as the night wore on and partygoers got a little tipsy, threatened to overwhelm the speakers. But when Beth Pearce took the stage, the audience went wild with applause.
Jeb Spaulding, Pearce’s former boss, and the now-Secretary of the Agency of Administration, introduced the treasurer. “We’re not here to celebrate the super PAC woman, we’re here to celebrate the super woman who beat the super PAC,” Spaulding declared.
Pearce introduced her family to the crowd then gesticulating wildly, said: “The super PAC lost and Vermonters won. With your help, I’m going to be state treasurer for a long time,” she said. “We’re going to work for a triple A, triple A bond rating because that’s what Vermonters deserve.”
Wilton conceded the race to Pearce later in the evening at the GOP headquarters in Montpelier, in a low-key ending to arguably the most contentious statewide contest, which was rife with accusations and counter-accusations, and heavy involvement on her behalf from super PAC Vermonters First.
Wilton didn’t give a public speech.
She told reporters: “I told her (Pearce) … I said I’m proud of the race I ran, and I’m glad that I challenged the race.” Wilton said she remained interested in improving the state’s fiscal transparency, and offered Pearce her help to improve that area.
Sorrell gets eighth term
Bill Sorrell, the Democratic incumbent Vermont attorney general, won by 57 percent of the vote, according to early, unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office. Ed Stanak, the Progressive, got just over 5 percent in early returns, and Jack McMullen, the Republican, garnered 35 percent.
McMullen chose not to deliver a concession speech, instead he tried to slip out quietly as Scott began talking to supporters.
“My feeling is that I couldn’t have done anything differently that would’ve improved my chances,” McMullen said.
He attributed Sorrell’s impressive margin to his 15-year incumbency and the state’s Democratic leanings and base turnout in a presidential election year. As a result, McMullen said, he’d started the race about 40,000 votes behind Sorrell.
Sorrell gave an extended speech, but did not entertain guests at the Democratic headquarters with a reprise of his 2010 “funky chicken” dance. The attorney general survived a brutal primary in August against TJ Donovan, winning by about 500 votes. Sorrell won, critics say, because he was supported by several hundred thousand dollars in advertising from a super PAC — the Committee for Fairness and Justice — an arm of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
McMullen says he will continue to pursue his court case alleging Sorrell coordinated with former Gov. Howard Dean, who campaigned with Sorrell and appeared in the DAGA ad. The hearing, originally scheduled for Thursday in Chittenden County Superior Court, has been delayed. A rise in drug-related crime, he said, was the chief motivation for his run, which was viewed by many as a long-shot bid.
“This is a pretty convincing loss I have here,” he remarked before leaving. “And it’s the third time I’ve run. At the moment I haven’t decided what I’m going to do, but it doesn’t suggest itself to me, running again.” Still, he said: “But I may change my mind.”
Hoffer wins bid for auditor
In the final defeat of the night for statewide Republicans, longtime state Sen. Vince Illuzzi conceded the auditor’s race to Doug Hoffer in a phone call at about 11:30 p.m. Hoffer won by roughly 3 percent, according to early unofficial results from the Vermont Secretary of State’s office.
Hoffer said it “feels great” to win. “It’s hard to get too excited because I really didn’t think I was going to win to tell you the truth,” Hoffer said. “I thought I had a good shot, but who the hell knows.”
When he took the podium, Hoffer mumbled into the microphone and blamed the pundits for inaccurately calling the race. He didn’t prepare a speech.
As for Illuzzi’s slew of newspaper endorsements, Hoffer said: “I had most of them last time and lost. He had all of them this time and lost. So, maybe they should rethink what they do. Also the pundits — hello pundits!”
Illuzzi, who campaigned hard for the position, said his loss could be partly due to Doug Hoffer’s Democratic affiliation in a presidential year.
“I guess ultimately I didn’t have enough to offer to the majority of the votes,” he told reporters. “Unless people know a person’s voting record, as they do in my district, often times they vote by default. And a vote by default is not for the Republican this year.”
Illuzzi will continue working as Essex County state’s attorney. He’s ruled out running for state Senate again.
“After 32 years and a lot of work, I just thought it was time for me to either step back or do something different,” he said. “The voters have decided, and I’m perfectly content with that decision. … I gave it a 110 percent: I don’t know what more I could’ve done differently.”
Hoffer said the first thing he’s going to do when he takes office is “get to know the staff.” “In order to be productive and do good work, we have to do it together,” Hoffer said. “So, I’m looking forward to that.”