In Vt., 2010 was a year for Democrats
GOP, Tea Party candidates made little headway
MONTPELIER — For all the Tea Party revolts and Republican gains that defined the year in politics nationally, Vermont went its own way in 2010, turning an even deeper shade of blue.
In one of the busiest election years in recent memory, voters chose a Democrat for governor and reelected Democrats to Congress in landslides.
Not that Vermont was alone among New England states in seeing Democratic gains. Democrats picked up a governorship in Connecticut and kept overwhelming majorities in legislatures in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
Their big prize in Vermont was the governor’s office. State Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, who narrowly won a five-way primary in August, went on to beat Republican Brian Dubie in the Nov. 2 general election for the right to succeed Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican who was retiring.
On the federal level, Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Peter Welch easily won reelection over Republican challengers who had hoped to ride voter unrest over the economy and federal spending to victory.
Leahy won a seventh term, capturing 64 percent of the vote to defeat six others, including Republican newcomer Len Britton.
Welch won his third term by an equally big margin, cruising past Paul Beaudry, a Republican candidate backed by the Tea Party movement, and three others.
Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College political science professor, said the election results in Vermont are part of a trend that has continued for 20 years or more.
Davis said the most economically vibrant parts of the state — the area around Burlington in northwestern Vermont and the upper
The most Republican parts of the state — northeastern Vermont and Rutland County — also are more economically stagnant.
The trends don’t bode well for the Vermont Republican Party, according to Davis.
“My argument would be that Jim Douglas was the exception in a state that was trending more and more Democratic in the last 20 years,’’ Davis said. “The question for me is whether Jim Douglas is going to turn out to be the last Republican governor in Vermont for a very long time.’’
Douglas’s decision not to seek reelection was the engine behind much of this year’s political activity.
The prospect of an open governor’s office had Democrats flocking to the race, which made for a busy summer of campaigning among Shumlin, state Senators Doug Racine and Susan Bartlett,
The Aug. 24 election was close: Shumlin’s margin of victory was less than 200 votes and prompted a recount that certified him as the winner.
The general election was a nail-biter, too, for Shumlin and others.
Shumlin outpolled Dubie, by a margin of 49.5 percent to 47.7 percent. But since neither got 50 percent plus one vote, as required by the Vermont Constitution, the election goes to lawmakers when they convene next month. But with Democrats holding 94 of 150 House seats and 22 of 30 in the Senate, the outcome is inevitable. Dubie has conceded.
Republican Phil Scott won the lieutenant governor’s race at the polls, but he didn’t get enough votes to be declared the winner, either. The Legislature will vote on his election, too.
Meanwhile, nine legislative races ended up with recounts, including one that was decided by a single vote.
Despite their success at the polls, Democrats aren’t gloating.
Ben Palkowski, director of the Vermont Democratic House campaign, says the election results leave Vermont’s political color “a very light blue.’’
If lawmakers and the new Shumlin administration aren’t able to convince voters that they are doing a responsible job steering out of the fiscal crisis, “then I think those voters will in fact vote us out, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, or independents,’’ said Senator John Campbell, who succeeds Shumlin as state Senate president.
The state is already facing a deficit estimated up to $150 million for fiscal 2012.
“I don’t see us believing that it’s time to start creating new programs or start ramping up the programs that we have. We’re still facing that financial crisis. It has to be dealt with in a very mature way,’’ Shumlin said.