A top Vt. senator claims victory in governor race

The Democratic candidates for governor join hands during a unity rally in Burlington, Vt., Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010. From right, Matt Dunne, Peter Shumlin, Doug Racine, Susan Bartlett and Deb Markowitz. The Democratic candidates for governor join hands during a unity rally in Burlington, Vt., Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010. From right, Matt Dunne, Peter Shumlin, Doug Racine, Susan Bartlett and Deb Markowitz. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
By Dave Gram and John Curran
Associated Press Writers / August 25, 2010

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MONTPELIER, Vt.—The Vermont Senate's top Democrat has apparently won the party's gubernatorial nomination, but the prospect of a recount loomed for a party that would prefer a united front in trying to win back the office.

Democrats gathered in Burlington on Wednesday for what had been planned for weeks as a post-primary "unity rally" -- expecting the five-way race for a nominee would have been resolved. Still, a day after the polls closed, the results were too close to be certain.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin led state Sen. Doug Racine by 192 votes and said he believed he had won. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz appeared to be headed to a close third-place finish, 684 votes behind Shumlin.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie ran unopposed for the Republican nomination. The winner in November will replace Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, who is stepping down after four two-year terms.

Democrats haven't held the office since 2003, when Howard Dean was governor.

"It appears that we've won. We believe that we've won," Shumlin said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Obviously, we're going to move forward on the basis that we're going to take on Brian and we're going to get the job done."

Under state law, a candidate who trails the leader by less than 2 percent of total votes cast -- both Racine and Markowitz fell into that category -- can petition for a recount, a complicated procedure that would be carried out by special teams gathered at the Washington Superior Court in Montpelier.

A recount could delay resolution of the primary into September -- after the Legislature this year moved the vote from September to August to give more time between the primary and the general election.

Racine did not rule out seeking a recount, saying there was room for error in the vote counting.

"I think my supporters and Sen. Shumlin's supporters would all benefit by taking a deep breath and waiting until we have an official tally from the secretary of state," he said.

With all precincts reporting, Shumlin had had 18,192 votes; Racine had 18,000; and Markowitz had 17,503. Google executive Matt Dunne had 15,242, and State Sen. Susan Bartlett was a distant fifth with 3,774.

Dunne conceded at midday, but Markowitz had not.

"We want to wait until every single vote is counted and make sure the nominee is strong to take on Brian Dubie," said her campaign manager, Paul Tencher.

Shumlin called the primary "an embarrassment of riches for Democrats, and we have so much to be proud of."

Meanwhile, AARP Vermont postponed a debate planned Thursday between Dubie and the Democratic candidate because of uncertainty about the election results.

Even as they mulled their options, the candidates put on a unified face.

Cheered on by a crowd of about 250 party supporters, all five stood arm-in-arm on a dais alongside two fellow Democrats, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, during a 45-minute rally at Union Station. No one mentioned the unsettled vote totals and prospect of a recount -- instead, they celebrated the high turnout for Tuesday's primary, calling it a harbinger of victory in November.

"Even though the results are not certain, I'm certain about one thing: Our nominee is going to have my full and daily and constant support," Leahy said.

A recount would be "bad for the Democrats," said Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, because they need to gear up as quickly as possible for the fall campaign against Dubie.

Dubie has won four terms as lieutenant governor in liberal Vermont even with his conservative views on abortion, economics and other issues. He starts with a strong fundraising lead, as most of the Democrats depleted their resources during the primary campaign.

But Paul Gronke, professor of political science at Reed College, said a recount "should not harm the Democrat's chances if it is completed in a timely fashion."

"The general election season for most voters does not start until Labor Day," he said. "True, campaigns need to be gearing up before then, but a few weeks' delay should not be too harmful. It could even be helpful by continuing to focus media attention on the Democratic race."

The last statewide recount in Vermont was in an election for auditor of accounts in 2006, when incumbent Republican Randy Brock appeared to have won the November election over Tom Salmon. Salmon, who has since switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party, ended up winning after a recount by 137 votes.

That swing of 239 votes in a recount was larger than the margin Shumlin appeared to have over Racine.


Associated Press writer John Curran in Burlington, Vt., contributed to this report. top stories on Twitter

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