MONTPELIER, Vermont — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne appeared Thursday to back away from pre-election statements that he would concede the race if incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin won a plurality but did not get support from 50 percent of the electorate.
If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the Vermont Constitution calls for a joint session of the Legislature to decide the election. Milne cited an unofficial Associated Press tally showing Shumlin with about 46 percent and him with 45 percent, with a gap of 2,095 votes between them.
"It's clear that 54 percent of Vermonters want a new governor, and a new path forward," Milne said Thursday of an election that drew a record low 43.7 percent of voters to the polls.
Milne appeared to rule out asking the Legislature to reverse a plurality vote in Shumlin's favor in comments Oct. 23 to The Associated Press.
"If it's less than 50 percent and Peter Shumlin has beaten me in the popular vote, I clearly would concede the election to him and I encourage him to tell Vermonters he would do the same thing," Milne told the AP.
Milne in an interview Thursday acknowledged he had made the Oct. 23 comments. But he said Shumlin "didn't respond to that challenge," and whether that lets Milne off the hook for making the statement is "one of the things we'll be considering in the coming days."
Milne said in a prepared statement that he and his team were "looking closely at the legislative districts across the state on a district-by-district basis to determine which candidate won the most counties and legislative districts." He said he also is considering asking for a recount.
Strong Democratic majorities in both houses would be expected to favor Shumlin, but in previous instances of deciding elections, some lawmakers have questioned whether they should match their votes to the preferences of their districts' voters.
House Speaker Shap Smith, a Democrat whose four-town district voted 1,270 to 1,193 in favor of Milne, said Thursday that a "vast majority" of lawmakers in past such elections had supported the winner of statewide plurality, regardless of party.
"I'm planning to follow the historical precedent, which I think most people will follow, which is that the person who has the plurality gets the vote" in the Legislature, Smith said.
In the statement issued by his campaign Thursday, Milne noted that the last time the Legislature chose a candidate who had not won the plurality was in the race for lieutenant governor in 1976.
In that election, John Alden of Woodstock got the most votes, but lawmakers chose second-place finisher T. Garry Buckley. In Buckley's 2012 obituary in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, the paper cited a then-ongoing investigation that ended in 1978 with Alden's conviction for diverting premiums paid by clients of his insurance business to himself.
"While legislators may not have known of (the) investigation, it was plain that Alden was suffering a trust deficit, which helped Buckley to victory," the Times Argus reported.