MIDDLEBURY — Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore voters on Tuesday overwhelming endorsed incumbent Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, for a fifth term in office and also elected New Haven Democrat Chris Bray to represent them in the Legislature’s highest chamber.
Ayer, the former Senate majority whip and current chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, was the top vote-getter, notching 12,943 tallies. Bray, the former Addison-5 state representative and 2010 candidate for lieutenant governor, finished second, with 9,915 votes.
Robert Wagner, a Ripton independent, placed third and out of the running with 5,073 tallies in this, his second consecutive bid for the state Senate.
“I am happy to be going back to the Senate,” Ayer said of her election victory, citing her main task as “working on health care to make sure we are on a solid footing going forward.”
Bray was also pleased after the ballots had been counted late Tuesday evening.
“I loved serving before as a House member and am delighted to be able to go back to (Montpelier) to represent my home county,” Bray said.
Ayer logged the lion’s share of votes in 22 of the 24 communities at stake in the election. The lone exceptions were Bridport (which reported a 343-343 tie between Ayer and Bray) and Bray’s hometown of New Haven, where he out-polled Ayer 645-564. Ayer also placed first in Huntington and Buel’s Gore — newly added in place of Brandon through statewide reapportionment. Ayer won that combined reporting area with 704 tallies, compared to 598 for Bray and 316 for Wagner.
Bray finished second in 20 of the 24 communities. Wagner took second in Hancock (67 votes to 49 for Bray) and Orwell (216 to 206).
While the 5,073 tallies registered by Wagner were considerably more than the 1,127 he garnered in 2010, political observers did not attribute that to Wagner gaining more traction with his campaign in which he championed, among other things, eliminating the personal income tax and instead taxing natural resource extraction as well as unearned income from land speculation. Eric L. Davis, a political analyst and professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, said Wagner’s beefed-up numbers likely came from tallies tossed to him by Republican voters who did not have a GOP candidate to vote on in this year’s race for state senate. For the first time in decades, Republicans did not field a single candidate for Addison County’s two state Senate seats. GOP officials have cited as reasons the rigors of campaigning and the senatorial district losing Brandon (a Republican stronghold) and gaining Huntington (which leans Democratic) through reapportionment.
Davis noted the election returns show that roughly 17,500 Addison County residents voted for president on Tuesday. Those same people had two votes to cast in the state Senate race, which could have produced a total of around 35,000 votes. But only around 28,000 votes were cast in the state Senate race, meaning that approximately 7,000 voters did not make two selections in that contest.
“The Wagner vote represents Republicans who wanted another name on the ballot and there were no Republicans to vote on, so they voted for Wagner,” Davis said.
But Wagner, reached on Wednesday, discounted Davis’s analysis.
“We don’t know until we ask people why” they voted the way they did, he said.
Wagner said he believes most Vermonters classify themselves as independent, and he perceived his vote total as evidence of growing support. And he believes any votes tossed his way on Tuesday were a statement against majority party rule in general, rather than just a jab at Democrats. He said he is likely to run for state Senate again in the future.
As chair of senate Health and Welfare, Ayer, 64, will be at the center of the state’s health care reform efforts during the upcoming session. Her other priorities include Lake Champlain cleanup efforts; putting together a comprehensive and long-term energy plan; and revisiting campaign finance reform as a member of the Senate Government Operations Committee. Specifically, Ayer said the public should be given a better idea of the identities of people and businesses that contribute to political campaigns.
“I don’t care that people spend money; I want to know whose money it is,” Ayer said.
Bray, 57, proved an aggressive campaigner in his first run for state Senate, appearing at more than 100 public events while doing a lot of stumping door-to-door. And he is no stranger to the Statehouse. Bray served in the House from 2006-2010, on the House Agriculture Committee, where he championed several bills — including the Farm to Plate initiative — designed to promote sustainable, local economic development in food, forestry and energy.
He promised not to lose sight of agricultural issues while working in the Senate and hopes to get an assignment on the Senate Finance Committee.
“It would be a great committee for Addison County to be a part of,” Bray said. “It puts you in the middle of state finances.”
Ultimately, Bray said he will be happy to serve wherever leadership believes he is best suited.
“Put me in, coach,” he said, likening his status to that of a baseball utility infielder.
See town-by-town results from this election at our special Addison County election page.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.