Vermont voters on Tuesday handed an overwhelming re-election victory to a Republican governor who has overseen one of the most successful COVID-19 mitigation strategies in the nation.
Gov. Phil Scott cruised to a third term over his Progressive/Democratic challenger, David Zuckerman, who sacrificed his lieutenant governor’s post to take on the popular Republican incumbent.
With 174 polling districts reporting results Tuesday night, Scott held a 67% to 26% lead over Zuckerman.
The race is on track to be the most lopsided governor’s election in Vermont since 1996, when Gov. Howard Dean defeated Republican John Gropper by 41 points.
Scott, who watched election night results come in from his motorcycle garage in Berlin, thanked voters for their support in a pre-recorded video sent out by his campaign Tuesday night.
“Today, Vermonters have spoken, and I am humbled to earn your support once again,” Scott said. “Your faith and trust in me is the greatest honor of my life, and I will continue to work every single day to make the lives of Vermonters better, our economy stronger, and our state more affordable for families and businesses.”
While COVID-19 case counts have been on the rise in Vermont in recent weeks, the state still enjoys the lowest per-capita infection rate in the country since the start of the pandemic, according to data compiled by the Department of Financial Regulation. And Vermont hasn’t recorded a COVID-related death since late July.
Scott has won high approval ratings for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. But he credited Vermonters Tuesday with the state’s success in suppressing transmission of the virus.
“It’s because of you, your hard work, your compassion for others and your commitment to community, that Vermont has led the nation,” Scott said.
Over the past seven months, Scott has used his executive authority to order the closure of schools and businesses. And his “Stay Home” orders at the outset of the pandemic stunted commerce in the state and led to job losses not seen since the Great Depression.
At one point this year, more than 90,000 Vermonters were out of work. And while the incremental reopening of the economy has seen employment numbers rebound from their trough, businesses have suffered billions of dollars in lost economic activity.
Voters, however, as evidenced by election results Tuesday, do not fault Scott for their economic duress. Of the 174 precincts reporting results at 10:15 p.m. Tuesday, all but one had fallen in Scott’s favor. And Zuckerman’s lone triumph, in Brattleboro, was by a single vote: 2,067 to 2,066.
Scott said Tuesday that he ran for governor in 2016 to “grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the most vulnerable.” And he said he intends to use his third term to advance those goals.
“I want to assure you, even as we face and fight this virus, these priorities will be just as important during my next term as they were in my first,” Scott said. “And they will continue to guide my team as we rebuild and recover from this pandemic.”
Challenger David Zuckerman delivered his concession speech Tuesday night during a virtual election night event hosted by the Vermont Democratic Party.
“While this election did not go our way, I want to thank all Vermonters for their consideration and for the conversations that we’ve had in this election,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman spent much of his campaign spotlighting the contrast between him and Scott on economic and environmental issues such as a $15 minimum wage, paid family and medical leave and climate change.
He said his defeat Tuesday should not be interpreted as a lack of popular support for those policies.
“We must remember that the work does not end tonight. The work starts tonight,” Zuckerman said. “Vermonters know that we must make sure that all workers are paid enough to meet their basic needs.”
Scott, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump who revealed Tuesday afternoon that he voted for Democrat Joe Biden, closed his victory speech Tuesday with a call for civility in the public sphere.
“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. “We must heal our country, because we simply cannot go on like this.”
Here's a glance at governor's races across the country:
This story was originally published by Vermont Public Radio.