BURLINGTON -- Fresh off a primary election win, Attorney General William Sorrell said Wednesday he would turn his full attention to getting re-elected to the office he has held for 15 years while his Republican challenger said he was eager to engage his opponent in discussions about the best way the office should be run.
The shape of the race became clear Wednesday after Sorrell's upstart primary challenger, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan, conceded the race when it became clear Sorrell's 2 percentage point lead, or just over 600 votes, would hold after almost all the state's cities and towns reported their vote totals.
Sorrell said he learned a lot in the six months of campaigning since Donovan announced he would run in Tuesday's Democratic primary, the first serious electoral challenge he has faced since he was appointed to the post by former Gov. Howard Dean.
"I've got a couple of days of rest then I have to get ready for November. I'm looking forward to it," Sorrell said before a Democratic party unity rally Wednesday near the Lake Champlain waterfront in Montpelier.
Donovan had just conceded the race in a brief announcement at Burlington's Battery Park.
"I'm proud of the campaign we ran," Donovan said. "We left nothing on the table. And while we're disappointed with the results, we accept it and it's time to move on."
With 99 percent of Vermont's precincts reporting their results, Sorrell led Donovan by 694 votes, 51 percent to 49 percent.
Aside from the marquee Democratic attorney general contest, voters on Tuesday also chose the Republican candidate who will face incumbent independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in November.
In that race, Windsor businessman John MacGovern handily defeated Brooke Paige, a businessman from the town of Washington.
Donovan said he would work to ensure Sorrell gets re-elected in November. Sorrell said he was pleased to have Donovan's support.
Meanwhile, Republican attorney general candidate Jack McMullen, a Burlington businessman who did not face a primary opponent, said he would focus his campaign on helping reduce the amount of crime in Vermont.
He held a brief news conference at the home of a supporter in Burlington's south end, a quiet middle-class neighborhood that has been hit by a rash of property crimes in recent months apparently driven drug users in need of money.
McMullen, who is trained as a lawyer but is not admitted to the Vermont bar, said the escalation of crime is happening so fast in some areas it hasn't been reflected yet in official statistics. And he said it's not just in the Burlington area.
"We don't come to Vermont to experience the Bronx all over again," McMullen said.
He said he would get Vermont's 14 different state's attorneys together to find a unified approach to combatting crime.
His focus would be getting violent criminals off the streets while getting young, nonviolent offenders into drug treatment programs that have been shown to be more successful at lower cost than jailing offenders.
Sorrell said he was eager to engage McMullen in a debate about the legal issues confronting Vermont.
"There are such big differences between us on any number of things," Sorrell said. "I'm really looking forward to having debates with my Republican opponent."
Some of the issues that separate them are ensuring product labels inform consumers, the ongoing legal battle to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and environmental protection issues, Sorrell said.
"I'm a rule of law person," McMullen said. "It doesn't matter what party you're from or what you're personal ideology is, I hope that you would get a fair shake when I'm the attorney general. I think Bill Sorrell, it is fair to say, is more on the activist side of attorney general."
McMullen said some of Sorrell's activism has discouraged business creation.