Obama, Welch cruise to victory, and Douglas wins

11/05/08 12:14AM

Democrat Barack Obama used his promise of hope and change to grab Vermont's three electoral votes Tuesday on his way to winning the presidency, easily defeating Republican John McCain.

With about 79 percent of the precincts reporting, Obama had about 66 percent of the vote, while McCain had 32 percent.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, easily won re-election. The freshman Democrat defeated five candidates in his first election since taking office in 2007. With 78 percent of the vote counted, he was polling about 83 percent.

Gov. Jim Douglas, too, won his re-election bid, sewing up a race some thought might not be settled until January. With just over 78 percent of the vote counted, he had 55 percent - enough to avoid sending the race to the state Legislature. Under the state Constitution, that's what happens if none of the candidates get more than 50 percent of the vote.

Welch said he would focus his second term on restoring America's standing in the world, reviving policies that focus on the middle class and developing a 21st Century energy policy.

"Those are the challenges we face and we must start addressing them honestly and directly," Welch said after he had declared victory. "If we do, the American people will give us time and latitude to make progress."

Many Vermonters believed Obama would rally the country, rescue the middle class and restore the country's good name globally.

"I grew up in the '60s and I am amazed and excited today. (Obama) has the ability to change our country," said Lori Schreiner, 54, of West Brattleboro, a Democrat who voted for Obama. "It's especially important to me because I was alive when Martin Luther King made his 'I have a dream' speech and now for us to actually see it come to fruition in my lifetime is extraordinary and really says a lot of good things about our country."

Balmy weather and the hot presidential race added up to heavy voter turnout in Vermont, a state considered so blue that neither campaign spent much energy in it. Both McCain and Obama dispatched Vermont volunteers to other states to work, believing Vermont would inevitably go to Obama.

And it did.

The White House race topped a ballot that also included races for governor, lieutenant governor and other statewide offices, in addition to legislative races.

Hundreds of people lined up waiting for polls to open at 7 a.m. at Edmunds Middle School in Burlington, where nearly 1,200 had voted by 10 a.m. There were lines early in the day at City Hall in Montpelier, too.

"People are coming in with a real spirit of optimism," said Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said. "People seem to recognize the historic nature of this election."

In the governor's race, incumbent Republican Jim Douglas faced challenges from Democrat Gaye Symington, independent Anthony Pollina and four other candidates.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, a Republican, was ahead in his race against Democrat Tom Costello. He had 57 percent of the vote, with three-quarters of precincts reporting.

Among the other noteworthy races:

-State Auditor Thomas Salmon, a Democrat, easily won re-election - even though he couldn't participate in his campaign in any way. Salmon, 45, is a U.S. Naval Reserve member on active duty in Iraq, and Pentagon rules bar him from political activity. His wife, his campaign manager and his father - former Gov. Thomas Salmon - ran his campaign in his absence.

-Attorney General William Sorrell, a Democrat, also breezed to re-election. Among his opponents: Charlotte Dennett, 61, of Cambridge, a Progressive Party candidate who says she'll prosecute President Bush for murder if elected. Sorrell had 78 percent of the vote, with 72 percent of precincts reporting.

-Sex offender Larkin Forney, 31, of Milton, ran last of 14 candidates seeking a state Senate seat in Chittenden County. Forney, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a minor, said he ran because he wanted to publicize what he says was his wrongful conviction.

Markowitz, who also won re-election Tuesday, predicted voter turnout would eclipse the previous record of 68.9 percent in the 1992 election when Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush.

"At the end of the day, maybe we'll break 70, maybe inch up to 75," Markowitz said.

Despite the heavy turnout, Markowitz said the lines haven't been too long. In many Vermont communities significant numbers of voters cast their ballots ahead of time. In Shelburne almost 50 percent of the checklist voter early.

Zoe Lanette, 32, of Burlington, said the buildup to the presidential election buried the other races.

"It'll either be the first black president or the first woman vice president," Lanette said.

"I'm one of the sole surviving Republicans in the city of Montpelier," said Mike Doyle, 60, an innkeeper who said he would vote for McCain. But, "I've always been a supporter of the duly elected winner of a presidential election."

The warm weather - temperatures reached near 60 degrees - helped turnout. Elections officials reported no major problems with voting.

____

Associated Press writers Dave Gram and John Curran contributed to this report.

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