MacDonald Defeats Klar to Keep Orange Senate Seat | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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MacDonald Defeats Klar to Keep Orange Senate Seat


Published November 9, 2022 at 10:26 a.m.

Mark MacDonald speaks at a candidate forum in September - FILE: BEN DEFLORIO
  • File: Ben DeFlorio
  • Mark MacDonald speaks at a candidate forum in September
Long-serving Vermont Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) fended off a challenge for his legislative seat from controversial Republican candidate John Klar.

With 12 out of 13 polling places reporting as of Wednesday morning, MacDonald had secured about 50 percent of the vote, compared to 39 percent for Klar.

"The Vermont Democratic Party is thrilled that voters in Orange County rejected John Klar's extremism and sent a good, decent, hardworking man in Mark MacDonald back to the Senate," Vermont Democratic Party executive director Jim Dandeneau said on Wednesday morning.

The race was a hotly contested one, in part because legislative redistricting changed the Orange County Senate district — comprised of 13 towns from Randolph to the New Hampshire border — from solidly blue to slightly more purple.

The contest was also upended by MacDonald's health issues. Hours after an October 9 candidate forum in Vershire, the 79-year-old incumbent had what his family described as a "mild" stroke, which took him off the campaign trail in the final weeks before Election Day. Legislative colleagues, including Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington) and Sen. Ruth Hardy (D-Addison), acted as surrogates, canvasing and phone banking on MacDonald's behalf.

In an interview on Wednesday morning, MacDonald, a retired history teacher, likened his fellow legislators' efforts to "the day of Lexington and Concord, where minutemen and women came from all directions to assemble when I [had] my stroke and went out and took on finishing up on doors I hadn't knocked on."

"I was both astonished, and it brought me almost to tears that that would suddenly happen, when I'm here in rehab and unable to get out and do the things I usually do myself," he said.

MacDonald said he felt confident that he would be able to return in good health to the legislature in January, adding that he was preparing to "do some walking and pumping some weights" later in the day.
In a Wednesday morning email, Klar wrote that "the voters have spoken, and I didn't get the job."

"It is disappointing that I will not be able to bring my ideas to support local farming to Montpelier, but I am hopeful some of my ideas might still make it," he wrote. "I wish Mark a full recovery." 

Klar ran a vigorous campaign, posting frequently on social media and attending community gatherings at restaurants. The former tax and criminal defense lawyer amassed a campaign war chest of close to $36,000, compared to $10,500 raised by MacDonald.

A former Connecticut attorney, Klar pitched himself to voters as a moderate Republican who would work to roll back regressive taxes, fix the state's pension system, and help local businesses and farms. But over the years, Klar has published hundreds of commentaries online, many on conservative websites including True North Reports and American Thinker, that take controversial stances on culture war issues such as gender identity and race.

Democratic Party executive director Dandeneau characterized Klar's writing as "really hard-core, right-wing, red-meat stuff" and called Klar "arguably the most dangerous candidate Vermont has seen in decades."

Still, Klar enjoyed financial backing from prominent Republicans including former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman, Montgomery Ward heiress and True North Reports founder Lenore Broughton, former lieutenant governor Brian Dubie, and Maplefields convenience store founder Skip Vallee. He also received the endorsement of former governor Jim Douglas, who told Seven Days last month that
 he believes Vermont needs "a little balance" in the Statehouse and that Klar understands the need to make Vermont more affordable.

MacDonald has nearly 40 years of legislative experience. He was first appointed to the House in 1983 to fill a seat left vacant by his mother, Barbara MacDonald, who died while serving her first term in the legislature. He won election to the Senate in 1995 but lost his seat in 2000 after voting in favor of civil unions. He won the office back in 2002.

Klar's wife, Jackie Klar, also lost her bid to represent Orange-Washington-Addison in the Vermont House. Democratic incumbents Jay Hooper and Larry Satcowitz held on to those seats.