Vermont down-ticket races offer closer contests

Monday November 5, 2012

MONTPELIER (AP) -- Incumbent-friendly Vermont voters are headed to the polls Tuesday to elect a governor, U.S. senator, and their lone U.S. House representative, but the only statewide political drama will be in the down-ticket races, especially the race for state treasurer, said an expert on Vermont politics.

Vermont voters have never turned out an incumbent U.S. senator and only twice in the past century have incumbent governors or members of the U.S. House been defeated. Not since 1994 has an incumbent member of the congressional delegation received less than 60 percent of the vote, said retired Middlebury College political science Professor Eric Davis.

The history must be comforting news for the campaigns of Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, all of whom Davis expects to win re-election handily.

"We're a small state and people get to know them," Davis said of the state's politicians. "Vermont politicians tend to have long careers. I think Vermonters become familiar with the incumbents and really don't see a reason to fire them."

Davis said the statewide political race to watch on Tuesday is the bitter race for state treasurer, which pits Democrat incumbent Beth Pearce against GOP challenger Wendy Wilton.

The other open statewide race for an open office is the race for state auditor. Democrat Doug Hoffer is running against state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, who is retiring from the state Senate after 32 years. Davis gave Illuzzi the edge because he feels Illuzzi has more energy and a broad political network amassed during his decades in office.

In the other statewide races, incumbent Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, is being challenged by Cassandra Gekas, running as both a Democrat and Progressive. Incumbent Democrat Attorney General William Sorrell is being challenged by Republican Jack McMullen and Progressive Ed Stanak. Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos has no major party challenger.

Shumlin, the 56-year-old Putney resident, is running for re-election for the first time. He has helped the state recover from damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene, but in his first two years he also oversaw the Legislature's passage of a law that is on track to see Vermont implement the nation's first single-payer health care system.

Brock, a former state auditor and retired business executive, sees Vermont's health care law as an impediment to economic growth and is campaigning against Shumlin by promising to make the state more business friendly.

Sanders, 71, was first elected to the U.S. House in 1990, defeating the GOP incumbent, as Davis noted, the last time an incumbent member of Congress from Vermont was defeated. Sanders is continuing his decades-long call to fight poverty and end what he feels is the continuing trend that sees the richest Americans getting richer while the poor get poorer.

He is being challenged by Republican John MacGovern, a 61-year-old Windsor resident who lists his profession as heading an organization of Dartmouth College graduates. MacGovern says he's running because someone had to challenge Sanders and to help the country avoid what he sees as the "fiscal cliff," a combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January.

Welch, 65, was first elected to Congress in 2006. He is running for re-election by promising to continue to push for bipartisan solutions to the challenges facing the nation.

The GOP U.S. House candidate is Mark Donka, 55, a Woodstock police officer making his first run for elected office. Donka is also running on an economic platform of what he sees as the need to avert fiscal disaster by reducing the federal debt.

The most wide-open statewide race is the race for treasurer.

Pearce was appointed to the post in 2011 after Shumlin tapped then-Treasurer Jeb Spaulding to be his administration secretary.

Her Republican challenger is Wilton, who developed a reputation as a scrappy conservative during a term in the state Senate and has served as city treasurer in Rutland since 2007.


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