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Incumbents Thwart Challengers

  • Ashley Andreas, of White River Junction, Vt., checks in with one of her supporters while campaigning outside of the polling place at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jeff Arnold campaigns outside the polling place at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Summer footwear was in abundance at the polls at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kevin "Coach" Christie talks to Latifa Jaima, of Wilder, Vt., as Jaima was walking into Hartford High School to vote in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vt. Sen. Dick McCormack, campaigns outside the polling place at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Gabrielle Lucke keeps out of the sun with a straw hat while campaigning outside the polling place at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Legislative candidate Charlie Kimbell toasts with his daughter Abigail at the polls in Woodstock, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. A friend had delivered the coffees to them. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Legislative candidate Ron Miller at the polls in Woodstock, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Voters fill out their ballot at the Woodstock Town Hall in Woodstock, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Voter Biz Alessi chats with Jim Ford, middle, and Dwight Camp as she is checked in to vote in Woodstock, Vt., on Aug. 9, 2016. Ford and Camp are both Justices of the Peace, part of the duty of being a JP is to volunteer at the polls. (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, August 10, 2016

White River Junction — Three members of the Upper Valley Young Liberals group who challenged incumbent Democrats in the Vermont House fell short in primary day voting on Tuesday, and a former state Senate aide also was running behind in a four-way Democratic primary for Windsor County’s three seats in the Vermont Senate.

With 21 of 28 towns reporting, state Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, had 3,403 votes, or 30 percent; state Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, had 3,048, or 26 percent; state Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Ludlow, had 2,975, or 26 percent; and Hartland native Conor Kennedy had 2,095 votes, or 18 percent, according to returns from the Associated Press.

The 26-year-old Kennedy is a former aide to Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Quechee, who opted not to seek another term and endorsed Kennedy.

In Hartford, unofficial vote tallies showed 801 votes for Clarkson; 788 for McCormack; 647 for Kennedy and 560 for Nitka.

For many voters at the Hartford High School polling booth, the shadow of Bernie Sanders loomed large over their ballot sheets, as did the anticipation of a legislative push to legalize marijuana in the upcoming session.

White River Junction residents Alex Bullett and Jessica Pecora approached the voting booths together, holding hands. They said they planned to cast their votes for McCormack, based on the endorsement of Sanders.

Michael Cannon, of Wilder, said he hated to be a single-issue voter, but this year, it was clear that marijuana legalization had to take top priority.

“I see it as such a basic issue,” he said. “It has to be taken care of before we get to some of these other issues.”

To him, a candidate’s stance on marijuana was likely to be a good indicator of where they stand on other issues, and that meant the Senate race didn’t require much scrutiny.

By opposing legislation, “Nitka made it easy,” he said.

McCormack said this is the first truly competitive contest he’s faced in 16 years.

“This time, there are four of us seeking three nominations. It’s musical chairs,” he said.

Before the vote totals were announced, he said he expected to win, but worried about an upset.

“So few people vote in primaries, the results can be quirky,” he said.

The message he heard from voters while campaigning, he said, is “always the same. People think they don’t make enough money, and they pay too much to live.”

On the Republican side, Hartford resident Mark Donka, Springfield resident Randy Gray and Weathersfield resident Jack Williams won an uncontested primary. In addition, Scott Woodward, of Pomfret, will be on the Senate ballot as an independent in November.

In Vermont House races, 28-year-old Nick Clark, a Norwich native and member of the UVYL group who lives in Thetford, appeared to have come up short in his first-time campaign for state representative, which he had framed as a way to give young adults a voice in state politics.

His opponents in the Democratic primary for the two seats in the Windsor-Orange 2 district representing Norwich, Sharon, Strafford and Thetford, were state Reps. Jim Masland and Tim Briglin, both of Thetford.

With three of the four towns reporting, including Norwich and Thetford, Briglin had 1,490 votes, or 44 percent; Masland had 1,341, or 39 percent; and Clark had 592 votes, or 17 percent.

And two Hartford Democratic lawmakers, state Reps. Kevin Christie and Gabrielle Lucke, turned back a primary challenge from Ashley Andreas, an Upper Valley Young Liberal, and Jeff Arnold, a former Hartford School Board member.

Hartford’s unofficial tally showed Lucke with 508 votes, Christie with 474, Andreas with 434 and Arnold with 255.

In another contested primary, Charlie Kimbell was leading Ron Miller in the race to succeed Clarkson in the Vermont House seat that covers Woodstock, Reading and Plymouth. Both are Woodstock Democrats, and Kimbell had 482 votes to Miller’s 369 with two of the three towns reporting, including Woodstock.

The winner will face Republican Keith Cappellini, 42, a real estate investor and former television news producer who moved to Plymouth from New York two years ago.

A third member of the Upper Valley Young Liberals, Dave Hinckley, finished out of the running in a Springfield race. He was trying to oust state Reps. Alice Emmons, the dean of the Vermont House, and Bob Forguites in a Democratic primary for a two-seat district in southern Windsor County. Emmons finished with 40 percent of the vote, to 35 percent for Forguites and 25 percent for Hinckley.

Outside the Norwich polls, Margie Waters said she had supported Briglin in his re-election bid because the first-term representative — who sits on the House Health Care Committee — had helped her navigate the complexities of Vermont Health Connect as she battled a serious illness.

“Tim Briglin really helped me out,” she said.

In Hartford, Nikki Grimes, a Wilder resident who works at the humane society in Enfield, said the day was an opportunity to affirm her support for Lucke.

“We called her when she was working on the (Department for Children and Families) bill,” Grimes said. “We had a long email exchange. She really listened to me, and the bill changed as a result. It was a really small detail, but she got it. She’s smart.”

Lucke said that running unopposed in her first election was “a gentle entry” that she regarded as “a gift.”

Being in her first competitive race, she said, “was exhilarating.”

Lucke said that, during the course of her campaign, she had come to rethink her stance on marijuana; she cited her position as a board member of Second Growth, a youth advocacy organization, in casting a vote against legalization on the House floor.

Now, she said, “my position is evolving.”

House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, appeared outside the polls in Hartford to support the candidates. As a matter of tradition, she said her default position was to endorse the incumbents, but she also had praise for the Upper Valley Young Liberals.

“More power to them,” she said. This year, she said, she has seen the effects of Sanders’ candidacy statewide, with progressive candidates moving into the Democratic party to challenge incumbents.

She said she was eager for the relationship between Sanders’ young, enthusiastic base and the established Democratic power structure to be collaborative, rather than contentious.

“Let’s bring them in,” she said. “We have a lot of common ground.”

The Hartford candidates were, at the least, amiable with each other as the polls closed and they left the campaigning area, one by one, to warm farewells and wishes of good luck.

The camaraderie was nowhere more apparent than in the case of campaign rivals Andreas and Christie; the two Vermont delegates had split on their support of Sanders, with Andreas making national headlines for her sharp critiques of Hillary Clinton supporters, but just before Andreas left, she ran up and bestowed a fierce hug on Christie.

Later, when the vote totals were announced, she hugged Christie again, just as warmly.

Outside the polling booths, she said that the Upper Valley Young Liberals, and the call for the Sanders-inspired political revolution, would live on.

“I’ll still be very involved,” she said.

In November, Lucke and Christie will face two Republican challengers — military retiree Kevin Stuart and telecommunications executive Charlie Davenport.

Valley News staff writers Rob Wolfe and John Gregg contributed to this report.

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