Gov. Shumlin addresses reporters Wednesday at Burlington's City Hall Park.
Updated at 9:38 p.m.
A day after he nearly lost his job, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday he was “humbled” by the outcome of his third campaign for governor.
“Vermonters sent a message last night and I heard it. I heard it loud and clear,” Shumlin said during an afternoon press conference in Burlington’s City Hall Park. “We have faced our share of setbacks in the past couple of years, and I know that people are disappointed in how I’ve handled some issues. I recognize that I have work to do to regain the confidence of many Vermonters.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin
According to an Associated Press count of all 275 polling places, Shumlin led Republican Scott Milne by just 2,088 votes out of 193,603 cast.
The Pomfret businessman indicated early Wednesday that he was likely to concede the race, but later reversed course and pledged to wait “to see the totals” before making a final decision.
“What is clear is that the majority of Vermonters do not agree with the path that we are on,” Milne said in a written statement. “We are going to wait for the final numbers.”
Shumlin left little doubt in his remarks that, despite the close tally, he believed he had bested Milne.
“I’m personally humbled by last night’s results and I’m also proud that we won,” the governor said. “I’m disappointed that I didn’t receive a wider margin, but I’m grateful that we received the most votes cast.”
According to the AP’s latest tally, Shumlin led Milne 89,883 votes to 87,788, or 46.4 percent to 45.3 percent. Libertarian Dan Feliciano trailed with 8,468 votes, or 4.4 percent.
Since no candidate won an outright majority, the winner will be chosen in January by the Democratic legislature. Twenty-three previous races have been settled in that manner, according to the AP, and only three times has the legislature reversed the will of the voters.
Shumlin said he had not yet heard from Milne, and he declined to weigh in on whether his challenger should concede.
“Obviously Scott Milne has to make his own decisions about what he thinks the next move is,” the governor said. “I’m grateful that we got a couple thousand more votes than any of the other candidates.”
Already, the governor seemed to be preparing for a policy course correction. He pledged to “assess our upcoming legislative agenda to ensure that it reflects the will of the Vermont voters.”
Whether that means backing down from his pledge to institute a universal, publicly financed health care system in 2017 wasn’t quite clear. He said he still believes Vermonters want their government to address fast-rising health care costs.
“Now, having said that, I have taken a lesson from this election. I have listened to the voters,” he said. “And I am obviously going to, on all the major priorities of my administration, reflect, talk to folks, be inclusive, make sure we’re doing it right.”
Does that mean single-payer is dead?
“I’m going to ask you to give us the time that we’re going to need,” he answered. “You know, I didn’t sleep much last night, and we’re not going to do much on the fly. What I can tell you is that the message was loud and clear. We need to work even harder to ensure that we’re making all the right decisions for Vermont.”
Asked if the drubbing he received signaled the beginning of a premature end to his political career, Shumlin said it did not.
“I take elections election by election — but I would say definitely not,” he said. “We won’t focus too much on 2016. What I’m going to focus on is the job that I’ve just been rehired to do.”
Elise Milne and the pizza guy.
Shumlin’s press conference capped a long and uncertain day with little word from either camp.
Reporters converged upon South Burlington’s Sheraton Hotel mid-morning after Milne indicated he would hold a press conference there. He later recanted and issued a statement instead.
Reporters camped out at the hotel until 2 p.m., when the Republican candidate’s daughter, Elise Milne, said her father had departed without a word.
“My dad’s actually left the hotel, so we’ll get back to you guys,” she said, declining to elaborate.
Instead of answers, she provided reporters with several boxes of pizza.