Close finishes are getting to be a habit with Peter Shumlin.
After prevailing in one of the closest Democratic primaries in years, the Senate President Pro Tem from Putney narrowly defeated his Republican challenger, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, in Tuesday’s gubernatorial election.
According to Vermont Public Radio, with 97 percent of the vote counted on Wednesday afternoon, Shumlin held a 113,884–109,410 lead on Dubie.
Dubie conceded the race on Wednesday morning.
In Windham County results, Shumlin won in Brattleboro (3,073–1,172), Rockingham (1,024–574), Guilford (565–279), Brookline (118–81), Windham (111–59), Dummerston (636–292), Townshend (288–199), Westminster (898–370), Marlboro (340–102), Newfane (550–236), Grafton (148–140), Halifax (184–113), and Putney (851–210).
Dubie won in Athens (54–47), Dover (334–208) Stratton (72–28), Wilmington (381–334), Whitingham (230–182), Londonderry (370–305), Jamaica (187–174) and Vernon (699–181).
The closeness of the race raised the spectre of a recount, since Dubie and Shumlin are within 2 percent of each other — the threshold for a losing candidate to seek one.
But in his concession speech on Wednesday morning, Dubie said that, “I’ve looked at the numbers and the numbers, there may be some change in the final outcome. But I feel pretty certain that the best thing for me to do at this time to pledge my support to Governor-elect Shumlin and to ask for Vermonters to unite around our new governor.”
In his noontime victory speech at the Burlington Hilton, Shumlin thanked Dubie for his service to the state as lieutenant governor.
“We were friends before the campaign, and we’ll be friends going forward,” said Shumlin.
He also offered thanks to the voters who supported him, and reached out to those who opposed him.
He thanked “Vermonters who invited us into their living rooms who talked to us on Main Street, who met us across this state and talked about their dreams and their visions for a better future. Those are the folks I promise I will work for every single day. We do not care if you are a Democrat, a Republican, an independent, a Progressive or any of the above. I have worked hard all of my life to get tough things done. We have tough things to do and today we begin that effort for every single Vermonter, every single day to make your future better — that starts today.”
He also offered hope to Vermont Democrats in the face of discouraging results for the party in the rest of the nation.
“Only in the Green Mountain state, in a sea of discouraging news nationally, would Vermonters come together and say, ‘we believe it, we have hope, we think we can manage our own destiny,” he said. “Let’s close the door on those who are doom and gloom about Vermont’s future.”
So, for only the fourth time in the last 75 years, the governor of Vermont hails from Windham County.
Shumlin, 54, follows in the footsteps of Republicans George Aiken of Putney and Ernest W. Gibson of Brattleboro and Democrat Thomas P. Salmon of Bellows Falls.
Aiken held the office from 1937 to 1941 before embarking on a long career in the U.S. Senate. Gibson served from 1947 to 1950, resigning before the end of his second term to take a position as a U.S. District Court judge. Salmon served two terms, from 1973 to 1977, and was an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate, losing to incumbent Robert T. Stafford in 1976.
For Shumlin, Tuesday was the culmination of a long political career that began with 13 years on the Putney Selectboard, three years in the Vermont House (1989–1993) and two stints in the Vermont Senate (1993–2003 and 2007 to the present). It was redemption for his last try for statewide office, an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2002.
Shumlin came to Brattleboro on Sunday afternoon for one last campaign appearence in front of his local supporters. About 200 people jammed the River Garden to hear the candidate, who was introduced by his running mate, Steve Howard, and Congressman Peter Welch.
In a firey 20-minute speech, Shumlin touched upon all the issues he was running on — such as single-payer health care, early childhood education, energy policy and climate change — and passed up few chances to needle his opponent. As he put it, “Brian and I come from different planets.”
Shumlin went after Dubie for his plan to cut taxes for wealthy Vermonters and his lack of enthusiasm for health care reform.
“No business owner has ever told me that their employees need a tax cut,” Shumlin said. “But everyone of them said they need reliable, affordable health care.”
He derided Dubie for his professed skepticism on global warming, and reminded people how the Legislature focused on the issue during the 2006 session.
“Remember, the Douglas/Dubie team called this ‘a boutique issue,’” Shumlin said. “I sort of think that the future of the planet is not a boutique issue. There are opportunities as we get off our addition to oil, as we say goodbye to leaking, lying nuclear plants. We have a bright economic future.”
Shumlin, who has dyslexia, emphasized the need for early childhood education by talking about how his second grade teacher at Putney Elementary School, Claire Oglesby, “never gave up on me” and inspired him to aim high and dream big.
He concluded by saying that when he took office, he would make sure that Windham County is not forgotten in Montpelier. “Vermont doesn’t end south of Route 4,” he said.
Shumlin will have to serve with a Republican lieutenant governor. State Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, defeated Howard, a Democratic House member from Rutland, by a 49–43 percent margin.
In other contested statewide races, Republican auditor Tom Salmon was re-elected to a third term over Democratic challenger Doug Hoffer by a 51–46 percent margin, Democrat Jim Condos defeated Republican Jason Gibbs by a 54–44 percent margin and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding and Attorney General William Sorrell both turned aside a group of third-party challengers to win re-election.