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Governor says he has disappointed Vermonters and promises to listen and change

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BURLINGTON, Vermont — A clearly chastened Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday he recognized that he had disappointed some Vermonters over the last two years and he promised to listen to them and change as he enters his third term.

Surrounded by staff and senior administration officials, Shumlin spoke in Burlington's City Hall Park, a day after he eked out a plurality in his re-election bid by outpolling Republican challenger Scott Milne.

Shumlin pulled in less than 50 percent of the vote needed for an outright victory so under Vermont law the Legislature will decide the race in January. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, an Associated Press tally showed the Democratic incumbent Shumlin leading Milne by a margin of 2,095 votes — or 46 percent to 45 percent.

"Vermonters sent a message last night and I heard it loud and clear," Shumlin said. "We have faced our share of setbacks in the last couple of years and I know that people are disappointed in how I've handled some issues. I recognize that I have work to do to regain the confidence of many Vermonters."

But Shumlin said he had won the majority of the votes cast and he was getting ready to enter his third, two-year term of office.

"In a very tough election cycle we got the most votes," Shumlin said. "I'm grateful for that, I'm grateful that we won, I'm looking forward to another two years of really trying to make a difference for Vermonters."

Shumlin said he had not heard from Milne.

Milne had been expected to make a public statement at a South Burlington hotel Wednesday, but after several hours of waiting, assembled reporters were told he had left the building.

PHOTO: Democrat incumbent Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin calls it a night without declaring victory on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 in Burlington, Vt. (AP Photo/Andy Duback)
Democrat incumbent Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin calls it a night without declaring victory on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 in Burlington, Vt. (AP Photo/Andy Duback)

Milne did issue a statement.

"What is clear is that the majority of Vermonters do not agree with the path that we are on. We are going to wait for the final numbers," Milne said.

"I am incredibly grateful to all of the Vermonters who cast their ballots on my behalf yesterday. I owe it to my supporters and all Vermonters to see the totals before we make any further statements," he added.

Shumlin said he would work with politicians and members of his administration to determine the best course forward for Vermont, but he promised his policies would reflect the will of Vermont voters.

He was ambivalent when asked if he would continue with his effort to enact in Vermont the first single-payer health care system in the country. His administration is scheduled to release in January a funding plan for that effort, which Shumlin hopes to implement in 2017.

He said rising health care costs and property taxes were holding Vermonters back.

"We need to stem the growth of property taxes and continue to push for affordable, quality accessible health care for all Vermonters," he said. "I will not shy away from the challenges that we face. I can't promise Vermonters that I'll be perfect or that we'll agree on every decision that I make, but I can promise that I'll work hard and never lose sight of why I'm so fortunate to serve as governor."

With neither candidate getting more than 50 percent of the vote, the election goes to the Legislature in January, where the incumbent's election to a third two-year term appears assured. Shumlin's fellow Democrats control both houses, and lawmakers haven't picked a governor who didn't get the highest number of popular votes since 1853.

The surprisingly close challenge mounted by Milne, who didn't launch his campaign until late spring and whose campaign fundraising was dwarfed by Shumlin's provided the only suspense among statewide races in Vermont.

With no presidential contest or U.S. Senate race on the ballot this year, turnout was expected to be low. It ended up setting a new record low, at 43.7 percent, the AP tally showed.

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PHOTO: Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin embraces a supporter after a news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, at City Hall Park in Burlington, Vt. After eking out a victory over Republican challenger Scott Milne, Shumlin said he knows that he's disappointed some Vermonters and he's promising to listen to them and change as he enters his third term. (AP Photo/Andy Duback)
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