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O’Brien Wins Royalton, Tunbridge

  • John O’Brien, of Tunbridge, Vt., left, talks with voter Douglas Palmer, of South Royalton, Vt., at the polls in South Royalton on Nov. 6, 2018. O'Brien is running for the Windsor-Orange 1 House seat representing Royalton and Tunbridge. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rep. David Ainsworth, of the Windsor-Orange 1 seat representing Royalton and Tunbridge, sits at his home in South Royalton, Vt., on Nov. 6, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 07, 2018

South Royalton — Democratic challenger John O’Brien, a 55-year-old filmmaker and Tunbridge selectman, unseated state Rep. David Ainsworth for the Windsor-Orange 1 seat, benefiting in part from anti-Trump sentiment in the two-town district.

In Ainsworth’s hometown of Royalton, unofficial vote tallies showed O’Brien leading Ainsworth, 704-454. In Tunbridge, O’Brien won 453-230.

The 1,180 ballots cast in Royalton were significantly more than the 843 cast during the 2014 midterms, and close to the 1,348 who turned out for the 2016 presidential elections.

“It’s the voice you have,” said Sarah Paige, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center worker who was exiting the White River Valley High School polling booths in South Royalton on Tuesday evening. “I like O’Brien’s ideas.”

The victory was decisive for O’Brien, especially in a district that has become known for razor-thin margins. Over the past eight years, Ainsworth, a Republican, has both won and lost elections by fewer than five votes.

“I like David. He’s an excellent town moderator,” said Gene Paige, Sarah Paige’s husband. “But I don’t like his politics.”

And Dyan Hoehl, a 36-year-old cafeteria worker in the Woodstock school system, said she likes Ainsworth as a person. But she’s still voting for O’Brien.

“I voted against David only because of his past voting record,” she said, noting that she particularly disagreed with his stance against legalizing recreational marijuana.

Ainsworth, a fifth-generation dairy farmer, has been plagued by health concerns in recent years and did not campaign on Tuesday. He said last month that he recently has returned to actively managing his dairy farm and had expected to fully participate in the upcoming legislative session.

O’Brien, who is currently working on a film about climate change, said he is not as far apart from Ainsworth as the party labels imply.

“I’m fiscally conservative, and David is fiscally conservative,” he said. “It’s much more problem-solving than tribalism.”

O’Brien said he hoped that the heightened energy around Vermont politics would help pressure lawmakers into being more effective.

Though many joined them in voting for O’Brien, Hoehl and the Paiges were in the minority in one respect — many voters exiting the voting booths said their primary motivator wasn’t even on the ballot.

“Anything against Trump,” said Josh Brown, 33, who runs a service industry business in White River Junction with his partner, Justin Barrett, 35.

Both said they cared about making Vermont a more welcoming place for people of diverse backgrounds, but that, for local and statewide races including the O’Brien-Ainsworth matchup, they tended to let party affiliation guide their votes.

Other voters said the same — they had little to no knowledge of O’Brien or Ainsworth but had still come out to oppose the Republican Party and to send a message to Washington.

Melanie McManamon, a 29-year-old health care worker, said the issue that’s most important to her is the environment.

“I’m young and going to have kids,” she said. “I want them to have a good world to live in.”

Cindy Stageman, 59, also a DHMC employee, said she was voting for more equitable health care, while Alex Stott, a 29-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter and a worker for the Army Corps of Engineers, said he’s not happy with the direction the country is going under the Trump administration.

“Trump campaigned on bringing down drug prices, but I don’t see him doing that at all,” he said.

Royalton Lister Walter Hastings, who has been manning polls since the late 1970s, said he could sense that national politics were driving the turnout this year.

“I’ve never seen this kind of turnout in a midterm,” he said.

South Royalton is also home to a number of Vermont Law School students who live and vote there.

Royalton Town Clerk Karmen Bascom said she was happy to see the high turnout, but that it’s important for voters to make considerations beyond party affiliation for local races, such as for the Board of Civil Authority.

“My concern is, we need D’s and R’s,” she said. “We need a good mix, so everybody can have faith in the process.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.