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Leahy Wards Off Milne, Wins Eighth Term in Vt.

  • Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Scott Milne campaigns with his son, Keith, and daughter, Ellise, outside of the polls in Hartford, Vt., on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. Milne hoped to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ellise Milne campaigns with her father—Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Scott Milne—outside of the polls in Hartford, Vt., on Tuesday, November 9, 2016. Milne hoped to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Scott Milne casts his ballot at a polling station in Pomfret, Vt., on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. Milne hoped to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., speaks about his involvement with Cuba, his experience in the Senate, and his views on the current presidential election at the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., on Oct. 30, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/9/2016 2:05:29 AM
Modified: 11/9/2016 4:27:19 PM

White River Junction — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy is heading back to Washington for his eighth term, easily turning back a challenge from Pomfret travel executive Scott Milne.

With 132 of 276 precincts reporting, Leahy had 60 percent support, to 35 percent for Milne.

Leahy spent part of his victory speech criticizing Senate Republicans’ refusal to bring to a vote President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

“I hope the nation will send a very strong signal to the Republican leadership in Washington,” Leahy said, according to the Associated Press. “You cannot keep a seat on the Supreme Court ... vacant against the Constitution. Do your job.”

The 76-year-old Leahy, first elected in 1974, is the longest-serving member of the Senate.

Milne had focused his low-budget campaign on saying Leahy had been in Washington too long. He was a political newcomer two years ago when he nearly upset incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Leahy centered his campaign on his experience and his ability to help Vermonters.

Hours before the polls closed on Tuesday, Milne stood on the street corner outside Hartford High School, holding a campaign sign and waving to voters as he talked about his candidacy.

“We got 14 thumbs-up in a row yesterday,” Milne said. Skyward-pointing thumbs were one of the metrics he liked to pay attention to, a tangible sign of voters on the ground that at times seemed more real, and certainly more comforting, than the polls that had been counting him out from the moment he declared as a candidate.

A man driving by on Route 5 gave a gentle honk as he flashed a peace sign at Milne.

“As long as both fingers are up, it’s not bad,” Milne said.

Milne is given to dry humor. It matches his stoic Yankee demeanor, which is directly tied to the image he projected as a candidate — an old-school Yankee Republican, fiscally thrifty and socially liberal, waging a war against a Washington establishment that has been corrupted by monied special interests.

As physical evidence of his thrift, Milne pointed to one of his campaign signs. Peel the white strip off, and it would reveal the word “Governor” beneath it, a recycling of his 2014 run for Vermont governor. Though he failed to unseat incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin, his razor-thin margin of defeat confounded pollster predictions and shocked state officials.

In the contest against Leahy, Milne called for a political revolution against the establishment, but in a voice so mild that it has utterly failed to break through the cacophony of one of the most bruising presidential contests in modern electoral history.

“If we had a calm, reasoned, George W. Bush-Al Gore kind of election where it wasn’t all screaming and shouting and insulting each other, I think my message would get more attention,” Milne said.

Instead, the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was “sort of sucking a lot of the oxygen” out of the statewide races, and also was undercutting his call for collaborative bipartisan solutions to the nation’s ills.

“It makes everybody that’s in politics look like a clown, in my opinion,” he said.

David Ford, owner of the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, walked up on foot and stopped to exchange pleasantries with Milne before continuing on to the voting booth.

“I like politics, but I wish it would be less partisan,” Ford said. “It used to be less partisan.”

Ford credited Milne’s mother, Marion, a state representative from Orange County who broke with Republican doctrine to support civil unions in Vermont in 2000, a principled stance that many feel cost her her seat in the subsequent election.

“Scott Milne has got one foot, I think, in old Vermont, with the old Republicans ... ,” Ford said. “Many Republicans were so progressive.”

Ford said Milne’s other foot is in the more contentious, modern era, even as he laments it.

“The new world is a crazy funhouse mirror of nonsense and cant and words that don’t mean anything. I mean that on both sides,” Ford said. “Democrats are saying it and Republicans are saying it.”

In another federal race in Vermont, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Norwich, handily won a sixth term against token opposition. His only opponent was Liberty Union candidate Erica Clawson.

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


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