BERLIN, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s top two elected officials facing the polls Tuesday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, both cruised to reelection Tuesday.
In the balloting, Scott defeated Democratic challenger Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, nabbing a third two-year term. Welch won an eighth term, defeating Republican Miriam Berry, a registered nurse who had never run for office before.
Scott didn’t do any in-person campaigning ahead of the election, relying on a number of debates with Zuckerman and email and direct mail messages to the people of Vermont.
While Scott is a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, he is seen as popular with the public and has been given high marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Vermont has consistently had one of the lowest rates of transmission.
Speaking on video from his motorcycle garage, Scott praised Zuckerman and reiterated what has been the focus of his years as governor: helping the state build a stronger and more diverse economy that will create more opportunities for people and businesses.
But he also called upon Vermonters to help heal the country from what he described as the political division plaguing it.
“We simply cannot go on like this. Our nation is hurting, not just from COVID-19 but because of another virus that has infected the hearts and minds of too many Americans, that of hate, fear and division,” Scott said in a video distributed by his campaign. “We must confront this with the same force and energy we’re putting toward the coronavirus.”
Zuckerman, a 48-year-old farmer from Hinesburg, campaigned on promises to do more for to advance progressive causes, saying wealthy people should pay more in taxes and Vermont should do more to combat climate change.
In his concession speech, Zuckerman said he wished Scott well and he offered his help in the future while Vermont confronts the issues he focused his campaign on, among them the pandemic, the economic needs of Vermonters and racial justice.
“I am ready to stand by him for our democracy, for the decency that we represent in Vermont and that we can be leaders across this country, if need be in making sure we respect the outcome of the elections and we continue to stand together for democracy no matter what our political differences on the issues," Zuckerman said.
After his victory, Welch, 73, of Norwich, said he felt blessed every day to be representing Vermonters as the state's lone U.S. House representative in Washington.
He said that on Tuesday night he and other Democrats were watching the results of the presidential election. Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, won Vermont's three electoral votes.
“My hope is that we have a new president, Joe Biden, and I think the possibilities that await us with the new president are, No. 1 that we accept democratic norms and No. 2 that we acknowledge that climate change is real and the legacy of slavery and racism is real,” Welch said.
Berry did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday evening.
Before the polls opened Tuesday, more than 80% of the number of Vermonters who voted in the 2016 presidential election had already cast their ballots.
The large number of early voters was due in part to a change in voting procedures designed to make it safer to cast ballots during the pandemic.
The race between Republican President Donald Trump and Biden helped to drive turnout. In addition to the two major party candidates, there were 19 third-party presidential candidates on the Vermont ballot. Trump had not visited the state to campaign since being elected.
Scott said Tuesday after voting in his hometown of Berlin that he had cast his ballot for Biden, the first time in his life he has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate.
“As many of you knew, I didn’t support President Trump. I wasn’t going to vote for him,” Scott said outside his polling location. “But then I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t enough for me to just not vote. I had to vote against. So again it’s — I put country over party, which again wasn’t an easy thing to do in some respects.”
Later Tuesday, Scott told The Associated Press what pushed him over the edge into voting for Biden was the public treatment of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. Trump has often lashed out at Fauci. On Monday, Trump suggested he would fire Fauci after the election.
“It’s just the public badgering of Dr. Fauci that was really bothersome,” Scott said Tuesday before his race was called. “Here is someone who is apolitical, you know, just trying to do his job and he was just, I don’t know, it was just beyond the pale from my perspective.”
Voters also cast ballots for the state’s other statewide elected offices, including lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state and auditor of accounts.
In local and regional races, Vermonters voted on all 150 members of the state House of Representatives and 30 members of the state Senate.
Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.