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GOP Mostly Sits Out Upper Valley Races in Vt.

Norwich — Only a handful of the six members of the Vermont Senate who represent the Upper Valley in Montpelier appear to be facing any challenge in November.

The three Democrats who represent Windsor County — Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell of Quechee, Senate Education Chairman Dick McCormack of Bethel, and Senate Appropriations Vice Chairwoman Alice Nitka — have all filed for re-election.

But no Republicans challengers stepped forward by the Thursday filing deadline, according to a candidates summary on the Vermont Secretary of State’s website. Although filings for legislative races could potentially trickle in from a district clerk to the Secretary of State’s Office by today , Sharon Republican Dick Tracy, who ran in 2012, said he wasn’t a candidate this year and knew of no other party member who was running for Senate in the heavily Democratic county.

Windsor Republican John MacGovern, a conservative who has run at both the state and federal level, also said he was unaware of any GOP state Senate candidates in Windsor County.

Veteran state Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown, does face a challenge in the Orange Senate district, from Chelsea Republican Robert Frenier.

Frenier, a small-business owner and former volunteer EMT, has said he is running over concerns about state-run healthcare programs and environmental policies he feels are stifling growth in Vermont.

And in the two-seat Caledonia Senate district, which includes the Orange County towns of Fairlee, West Fairlee, Bradford, Newbury, Topsham and Orange, incumbent state Sens. Jane Kitchel, D-Danville, and Joe Benning, R-Lyndon, have both filed for re-election.

Also running on the Democratic ballot is Mike Heath. Heath could not be reached for comment over the weekend, but the Caledonian Record reported that he is from Newbury, Vt., and a “newcomer” to politics.

Benning is the Republican leader in the Vermont Senate, and Kitchel is the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

There does promise to be at least three lively elections in the Upper Valley for Vermont House seats.

In the two-seat Windsor-Orange 2 district, representing Norwich, Strafford, Thetford and Sharon, state Rep. Jim Masland, D-Thetford, is seeking re-election, but fellow incumbent Kathy Hoyt, D-Norwich, is stepping down because of health reasons.

But three other Democrats have put their names on the ballot — Tim Briglin of Thetford, Jill Michaels of Strafford, and Irv Thomae, of Norwich — as has independent John Freitag.

Briglin runs an investment firm and is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Michaels is an economic development consultant from Strafford. And Thomae has long been active on fiscal issues in Norwich and is chairman of ECFiber.

Freitag is a selectman in Strafford.

In the Orange-Windsor 1 seat representing Royalton and Tunbridge, state Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, will again face off against former Republican lawmaker David Ainsworth, a dairy farmer in Royalton.

Ainsworth held the seat for two terms but lost to Buxton by one vote in 2010. She won more handily in 2012, a presidential election year, and this will be their third contest.

In the Windsor 2 district representing Cavendish and Weathersfield, state Rep. Mark Huntley, D-Cavendish, plans to run for a second term. Stuart Lindberg, a Cavendish resident opposed to a school consolidation bill that passed the House this spring, has filed as an independent.

In statewide races, gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne, a Republican from Pomfret, isn’t the only Upper Valley resident on the ballot. Former Hartford Selectman Mark Donka, a Republican who works as a police officer in Woodstock, is again hoping to challenge U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Norwich Democrat.

And Murray Ngoima, an arts educator from Pomfret who is frequently on the Liberty Union ballot, is running for state treasurer, as is incumbent Beth Pearce, a Democrat.

News staff writer John Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com .