This story was reported by Paul Heintz. Tyler Machado, Kevin J. Kelly and Andy Bromage
Vermont Democrats went wild as newly-elected State Treasurer Beth Pearce took to the stage late Tuesday night in a crowded ballroom at the Burlington Hilton.
As Pearce settled into her victory speech, the crowd went even wilder. But it wasn’t just for her. To the side of the stage, a television tuned to CNN was flashing some pretty big news. “I think I just heard that Obama won Ohio,” Pearce said. “Boy, I hope I got that right.”
This was a night of euphoria for Vermont Dems — up and down the ballot. Within minutes of the polls closing, the AP called it for their top officeholders: Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders (an independent who caucueses with Democrats) and Congressman Peter Welch. And Vermont once again sent Obama his first three votes in the Electoral College.
In the race Vermont Democrats focused on the most, Pearce handily defeated Rutland’s Republican city treasurer, Wendy Wilton, by a 52 to 41 percent margin.
But the biggest surprise of the night came when Burlington’s own Doug Hoffer (pictured above), a Democrat and Progressive, defeated 32-year Republican state Sen. Vince Illuzzi 51 to 45 to become Vermont’s next state auditor.
In a speech as low-key as his win was unexpected, Hoffer — a self-employed policy analyst running in his second race for state auditor — concluded by saying, simply, “I’m going to get to work.”
Throughout the night, speaker after speaker alluded to Democratic candidates’ victories over Republicans supported by Vermonters First, a conservative super PAC that emerged from the ether two months ago. Despite spending more than $814,000 on the race — most of which was donated by Burlington mega-donor Lenore Broughton — Vermonters First came up dry.
The group failed to elect either of the two statewide candidates it backed: Wilton and Illuzzi. It failed to increase the Republican ranks in the legislature. And its last-minute bid to defeat a Burlington ballot measure also failed; Mayor Miro Weinberger’s “fiscal stability bond” won by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent — exceeding the two-thirds margin required for passage.
Introducing Pearce, Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding said, “Tonight, we’re not here to celebrate the super PAC woman. We’re here to celebrate the super woman who beat the PAC.”
Though Shumlin’s win was expected, it was resounding. Despite barely engaging his opponent, Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), and spending a third as much money, Shumlin won by a margin of 58 to 38.
Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who narrowly survived a Democratic primary challenge in August, cruised to an easy victory. He won 58 percent of the vote, while Republican businessman Jack McMullen, who lost two previous bids for the U.S. Senate, took 33 percent. Progressive Ed Stanak won just 5 percent of the vote.
Secretary of State Jim Condos, who did not face a major party challenger, beat Libery Union Party candidate Mal Herbert by a commanding margin of 78 to 13.
The sole concession speech of the night at the Burlington Hilton was that of Progressive and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Cassandra Gekas. Despite the Democratic wave, the public interest lobbyist won just 41 percent of the vote, compared with incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s 57 percent.
In Chittenden County’s crowded, 14-person race for six State Senate seats, incumbents appeared to rule the day.
Incumbent Democrats Tim Ashe (who also ran as a Progressive), Ginny Lyons, Sally Fox and Phil Baruth won seats — as did incumbent Republican Diane Snelling. Former House member David Zuckerman, who ran as a Progressive and Democrat, came in a strong fourth place — taking the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Hinda Miller.
Republicans Get Routed
The Republican gathering at the Capitol Plaza hotel in Montpelier was a far more subdued affair. At times, the number of reporters outnumbered Republicans in the ballroom and the balloon-festooned stage remained conspiculously empty for hours after the polls closed.
House Minority Leader Don Turner (pictured below) finally took to the mic to announce that Republicans had picked up three House seats — two in Rutland and one in Fairfax — but conceded they had lost races in Essex, Williston and Shelburne they had hoped to win.
In introducing Turner, Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jack Lindley (pictured below) told the small crowd, "It's gonna be a great night. Look for good things. Republicans are coming back." But with each new set of results showing Republican candidates trailing Democrats, the night looked increasingly not great for the GOP.
Brock finally emerged at 10:30 p.m. — more than three hours after media exit polls called the race for Shumlin — to concede to the governor. Brock said he was not able to reach Shumlin by phone before conceding publicly but said he would be speaking with him soon and wished him success in his second term.
Calling his campaign for govenror "the best experience in my life," Brock said he intends to remain active in public policy in Vermont — though he didn't elaborate on what shape that might take.
"When we have campaigns in Vermont, they are often hard fought. They are difficult. They are contentious," Brock said. "But this was a campaign in which we talked about issues and was a campaign in which the dialogue remained civil, as it should be."
"Governor Shumlin will have my support," Brock (pictured below) added, "as will all of you and all the people of the state of Vermont."
The Republican's sole victorioius statewide candidate — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (video below) — gave an decidely un-celebratory speech, making a call for party unity and keeping storm victims in mind. He never mentioned his longshot, underfunded challenger, Progressive/Democrat Cass Gekas. but said later that he "didn't take anything for granted" and "ran the campaign we wanted to run."
Several down-ticket Republicans left the Capitol Plaza without addressing the crowd: treasurer candidate Wilton, auditor candidate Illuzzi and attorney general candidate McMullen. Wilton (pictured at left below, with WCAX reporter Jennifer Reading) downplayed the impact six-figure financial support from conservative super PAC Vermonters First had on her campaign. "I don't think the super PACs really had that much impact," she said, adding, "There's one on each side, don't forget."
Illuzzi (pictured below) called Hoffer to concede around 11 p.m., interrupting a chat with reporters to deliver the news. "I did the best I could and it wasn't good enough," Illuzzi said. He attributed his defeat largely to the trickle-down impact of Vermonters voting for "Democrats on the national level." Illuzzi said he'll continue his job as Essex County state's attorney and wouldn't speculate about future political plans.
Bad Night for Progs in Burlington, Brighter Prospects Elsewhere
Three Progressive candidates were defeated in Burlington, their party's birthplace, by wide margins in races for the state legislature and city council on Tuesday.
Gene Bergman, one of the two unsuccessful Prog candidates for the Vermont House, attributed his loss to an "Obama tsunami" in the Queen City. Bergman and his Progressive running mate Kit Andrews were routed in the two-seat Chittenden 6-3 district by Democrats Jill Krowinski, an incumbent, and Curt McCormack, a former Vermont House member from Rutland.
Results from the two Burlington wards that account for all but a sliver of the legislative district showed Krowinski with 1837 votes (36 percent), McCormack 1450 (29 percent), Bergman 940 (19 percent) and Andrews 838 (17 percent).
"I thought I would do much better," admitted Bergman, a former city councilor. "The institutional advantage of the Democratic Party is tremendous."
Bergman added that he was proud to have raised the issues of immigrants' rights and civil rights, which, he said, the Democratic candidates had not mentioned.
In other respects, however, the Progressive pair offered little political contrast to the two liberal Democrats.
Alison Segar, a Progressive candidate for an open city council seat in Ward 1, was also beaten handily by a Democrat, Kevin Worden. Unofficial returns for the seat vacated by Democrat Ed Adrian showed Worden with 999 votes and Segar with 667.
The 75 or so Progs gathered at Magnolia's Bistro in downtown Burlington did have a few causes for celebration. State Rep. Chris Pearson, running without opposition, was re-elected to one of the two seats in the Chittenden 6-4 district. Incumbent Democrat Kesha Ram was also re-elected in that Burlington district.
Progressive/Democrat David Zuckerman won one of Chittenden County's six state senate seats. Incumbent Democrat/Progressive Tim Ashe also won another two years in the state Senate.
Zuckerman all but declared victory in a speech at Magnolia at about 9 p.m. on Tuesday. "We're going down to Montpelier and shaking it up," Zuckerman said to cheers. "John Campbell [the state senate's top Democrat] is going to have some answering to do."
Campbell had not been supportive of Zuckerman's bid, even though the former seven-term Vermont House member finished fourth among six Democratic winners in the party's Chittenden County state Senate primary. Tellingly, Zuckerman spent the first two hours of watching returns at Magnolia's rather than at the Hilton, where the Democrats were partying on Tuesday night.
Democratic/Progressive candidate Doug Hoffer also spoke briefly at the Prog celebration, telling those attendance, "This is my family."
Progressive/Democrat Anthony Pollina's expected re-election to a Washington County state Senate seat enabled Prog Party chairwoman Martha Abbott to put a happy face on the results, predicing that her comrades will control 10 percent of the upper chamber's 30 seats.
Ward 2 Progressive city councilor Max Tracy was also celebrating what appered to be overwhelming support for an advisory ballot item calling for legalization of marijuana and hemp. Tracy had been the sponsor of that initiative in the city council. He said the next step will be to take the Burlington referendum results to Montpelier and press state lawmakers to pass pot decriminalization legislation.
But it was a mostly downbeat election for the Burlington Progs, with Pearson calling Bergman's and Andrews' defeats "heartbreaking." He added, "We're asking people to pay attention in a way they don't want to. It's very, very hard."