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Vermont GOP U.S. House Race Goes to Donka

Montpelier — For the second time in two years, Mark Donka has won the Republican nomination to try to unseat Vermont U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.

A final vote count Wednesday showed Donka the winner of one of the tightest primary races in memory against Don Russell and Donald Nolte.

Welch, a Democrat seeking his fifth term in Congress, faced no primary opposition in Tuesday’s voting.

Donka, a Woodstock police officer and emergency medical technician, has called for reducing federal spending and has said he’s skeptical about human-caused climate change. He did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on his victory.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Donka had 4,341 — or 36 percent of the vote — to 4,020 votes for Russell — or 33 percent — and 3,802 votes for Nolte, or 31 percent.

There was less of a gap between the first- and third-place finishers than in another epic primary, the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary that saw Gov. Peter Shumlin beat the second-place finisher, then-state Sen. Doug Racine, by 197 votes.

Donka is expected to face another uphill fight this fall. In 2012, Welch beat him by a more than 3-to-1 margin.

The final tally also confirmed Shumlin will face Republican businessman Scott Milne in November.

An Associated Press tally had Milne at 84 percent, Steve Berry at 8 percent and Emily Peyton at 8 percent. The secretary of state’s office’s tally had Milne at 72 percent and Berry and Peyton between 6 and 7 percent.

The difference is due to the fact that the AP did not count write-in votes. Libertarian Dan Feliciano asked Republican voters to write his name in on their ballot. The secretary of state reported that more than 14 percent of the ballots cast in the GOP primary for governor were write-ins.

On the Democratic side, H. Brooke Paige lost both his primary bids in the gubernatorial and attorney general races. He did slightly better in the latter race, taking 17 percent from Shumlin and 19 percent from incumbent Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

The campaign for lieutenant governor also featured a write-in campaign, by the Progressive Party’s Dean Corren. Corren sought to take advantage of the fact that there was no Democrat running for the office by garnering that party’s nomination as well as the Progressive nod.

A write-in candidate needs both the most votes to win a primary and to clear a minimum threshold of 250. The secretary of state did not report which candidates the write-in votes went for, but incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott did not campaign for the Democratic nomination and said he expected most of the 4,992 write-in votes in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor went to Corren.