State's second seat takes center stage
By LOUIS PORTER and DARREN M. ALLEN Vermont Press Bureau | September 13,2006
VYTO STARINSKAS / RUTLAND HERALD
Peter Welch backer Ron Sheret and Martha Rainville backer Courtney Jacobs show support for their candidates in front of the American Legion in Rutland on Tuesday.
MONTPELIER - With relatively few voters coming to the polls for this year's primary election, the closest race was one that would not even happen in most states, where voters choose a lieutenant governor and governor by checking the same ballot line.
State Sen. Matt Dunne was leading in the polls, but the race was too close to call as of late Tuesday night. With 161 of the state's 260 voting precincts, or 62 percent, reporting their votes, Dunne had 11,266 votes, or 57 percent, while State Rep. John Tracy had 8,566 votes, or 43 percent.
The campaign to see who would be the Democratic candidate to challenge Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie was one of the few races in the primary that was hard to predict, as two legislators who differ more in style than policy fought for the chance at a seat whose main duty is presiding over the state Senate.
Dunne, from Windsor County, campaigned across the state as though he was already in a general election against incumbent Dubie and Dr. Marvin Malek, who had an uncontested primary to become the Progressive candidate.
Tracy of Burlington, on the other hand, concentrated on his home county of Chittenden. That county has a large share of the state's population and is largely Democratic.
One Vermonter who wasn't in the state to see firsthand how the election played out was Dubie. An officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Dubie was called up for active duty in Iraq last Friday, according to his office. He is expected to return to the state by the end of September, leaving him time to campaign before the November election.
"Regardless of the outcome we feel very, very excited about the campaign we ran," Dunne said. "We assumed all along that overcoming a person who is well-known and well-liked in Chittenden County as well as roots in Windsor County would be a challenge."
Dunne carried Springfield, where Tracy grew up, by 323-254. Dunne also did well in Ludlow, at 241-47, and in Brattleboro, where the result was 651-180.
Tracy did better in Chittenden County cities, where he beat Dunne in some cases by a two-to-one margin.
"We started a lot later," Tracy said. "I spent my time working on health care."
"I choose to do the job I was sent to Montpelier to do. I choose not to raise money, campaign and get endorsements" until after the legislative session ended, he said.
Although some saw Tracy's campaign as focusing on Chittenden County he said last night that he spent a lot of time on the road, once his campaign got rolling.
"We covered the state, I changed my oil four times," Tracy said.
Both candidates agreed during an August radio debate that the differences in the policies they support are few and far between. Both candidates support the health care bill that was among the most controversial and important measures passed into law in recent years. And both said that Douglas' proposed cap on school spending is a bad idea, although both agreed that property taxes are too high and school budgets need to be reined in.
"I would suggest doing that by consolidating supervisory unions," Dunne said during that debate.
Tracy also opposed Douglas' idea.
"It shifts a burden again onto the backs of Vermonters and allows out-of-staters ... with second homes to benefit," Tracy said. "Vermonters are feeling a burden all around. It is not just property taxes."
Both also support large-scale wind projects, which the governor has actively opposed.
Dunne endeavored to run a general election campaign that he hopes will stand him in good stead in the contest to replace Dubie.
His campaign was an effort to "build a base for the general election," Dunne said. Along the way he hoped, by doing community service projects as part of the campaign, "to do politics a little bit different."
Tracy ran, in part, on the strength of his work on the state's new health care program. As chairman of the House Health Care Committee during the past two years, Tracy was an important force behind the measure.
However, that hurt him among voters who had hoped for a broader reform of the health care system untempered by compromises made to win approval from Republican Gov. James Douglas.
"I was disappointed in Tracy for promoting the (Catamount) health bill," said Bonnie Alexander after voting in Barre. "I think we can do better. Douglas is in the minority party and we should be able to do better."
That was what convinced Alexander to vote for Dunne.
"They should stick to their guns and insist on something more meaningful, and I think Matt Dunne will do that," she said.
Only one other statewide, nonfederal race had a contested primary Tuesday. In a repeat of two years ago, Dennis Carver, a 59-year-old East Montpelier businessman who is making his second run for the state's highest legal office, edged out another two-time aspirant to become the Republican nominee to face incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, a Democrat.
By ousting Karen Kerin, a 62-year-old self-employed engineer from South Royalton with a law degree and an expertise in international law with 68 percent of the vote in early returns, Carver is resurrecting a run for attorney general that was prompted by a 2000 arrest after a slow-speed chase.
Carver, who doesn't have a law degree, has said his experience with the legal system makes him qualified to be attorney general, an office that in Vermont doesn't require its holder to be a lawyer.
He is considered an underdog in his race against Sorrell, although Carver garnered almost 31 percent of the vote against the Democrat in the 2004 general election, the most ever against the incumbent.
The Associated Press and staff writers Peter Hirschfeld and Susan Smallheer contributed to this report.