ADDISON COUNTY — Incumbent state Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, will return for a fourth consecutive term representing Addison County and Brandon, though his re-election remained in doubt until the wee hours of Wednesday morning as a result of a spirited challenge from Orwell Republican Mark Young.
Giard finished second, with 7,366 tallies, behind Senate Majority Whip Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, who garnered 9,516 votes in her successful run for a fifth consecutive term.
Young, a longtime former House member and president of the First National Bank of Orwell, finished less than 400 votes shy of Giard, with 6,987 tallies.
Rounding out the field were Orwell Republican Andrea Ochs, with 4,242 votes, and Ripton Independent Robert Wagner, with 1,127 tallies. It was the first countywide race for Young, Ochs and Wagner.
Giard was ecstatic with a win made more difficult by a paperwork-filing gaffe this past summer. Giard missed the filing deadline for nomination papers, which forced him to wage a write-in campaign to get on the general election ballot. He narrowly bested Middlebury Democrat Amy Sheldon in a write-in race this past August that allowed his name to be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot.
He acknowledged he had to work even harder to win support in wake of the filing mistake.
“I knew it was going to be difficult,” Giard said. “I had been sweating this ever since not getting the petitions in on time. I am absolutely delighted (to be re-elected).”
Ayer was the top vote-getter in 17 of the 24 towns casting ballots on the state Senate race on Tuesday. She scored decisive wins in her hometown of Weybridge and in her historic wheelhouses of Middlebury, Starksboro, Ripton and Cornwall. As has been the case in past elections, Ayer was also the top vote-getter in some area communities that have tilted Republican, including Vergennes, Panton, Waltham and Ferrisburgh.
“I really am glad to go back to (Montpelier) and do what I can,” said Ayer.
Ayer’s political influence in the Democrat-controlled Senate is likely to grow during the next biennium because Ayer will become one of the most tenured members of the state’s highest chamber — several other senior senators chose to retire or seek higher office.
Ayer did not rule out seeking a higher leadership post within the Senate. She said her plans will probably crystallize in early December. In the meantime, Ayer said she’d like to return to the Senate Finance Committee (of which she is the current vice chairwoman) and aspires to serve on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
“It will be like a whole new world there with new members,” Ayer said of the upcoming transition in the Senate.
Giard will also be among the more senior Senate members after his close win on Tuesday. He did not win a single town, but posted enough strong second- and third-place finishes to ultimately out-poll Young during a long evening.
Young was the top vote-getter in his hometown of Orwell and the traditional GOP-leaning communities of Brandon, Addison, Leicester, Shoreham, Panton and even Giard’s hometown of Bridport. Young bested Giard in five more towns (for a total of 12), including Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, New Haven, Vergennes and Whiting.
But Giard topped Young in the 12 other towns, including the historically Democrat-leaning communities of Middlebury, Cornwall, Lincoln, Ripton, Starksboro and Weybridge. Giard received his biggest boost in Middlebury, where he out-polled Young 1,563-811, a differential that Orwell Republican could not make up elsewhere.
“Harold worked very hard,” said Middlebury College political science Professor Emeritus Eric Davis.
Davis added he believed the petition filing mistake “sent him a message,” and that Giard clearly put his campaign into high gear from the primary through the general election. And Davis said Ayer’s presence on the ticket undoubtedly helped him.
“There was a coattail effect,” he said.
In addition to waving, placing ads and making personal appeals, Giard said he attended “every chicken dinner there was to go to.”
With a new lease now on his political life, Giard vowed to work harder on the various agricultural, educational and economic development issues likely to come before the Senate this year.
“You want to walk out of the Senate rather than get thrown out,” Giard said of his relief at winning re-election.
Young confirmed late Tuesday night that he will not seek a recount and that he is pleased with the manner in which he and his many helpers conducted his campaign. He raised more than $24,000 in his effort, the most of any of the five candidates.
“We worked very hard; I don’t regret (running) a bit,” he said.
Young congratulated Ayer and Giard for their wins.
“I had a great time meeting a lot of folks in Addison County,” he said, calling the experience “very humbling.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]