VERMONT — With Donald Trump’s raucous Primary and General Election campaign, Bernie Sanders’ better-than-expected race against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary, and Republican Phil Scott’s blow-out win as Vermont’s governor over Democrat Sue Minter, it’s hard not to consider the elections of 2016 one of the biggest local stories of the year.
Our particular focus, however, is on local news and local impact, and even from that perspective, on the streets of Middlebury, Bristol, Vergennes, Ripton, Lincoln or on the farmland of western Addison County, talk of the election was on everyone’s mind — in fact, you couldn’t get away from it.
In the run-up to the Democratic Primary, Sanders won 1,879 delegates in 23 states or contests, while Clinton won 2,811 delegates in 34 states or contests. Clinton’s total, however, included 591 superdelegates, or those beholden to the party as opposed to being won by popular vote, and many of those superdelegates had pledged to Clinton early, before Sanders’ campaign picked up momentum and despite obvious weaknesses in Clinton’s armor. The party’s internal preference for its favored candidate became a flash point in the primary, with some angry Sanders supporters saying the primary system was rigged for Clinton — a line that Trump also used to stir dissension in the Democratic ranks.
Trump, meanwhile, dismantled 16 other Republican candidates in the GOP’s drawn-out battle to pick a nominee and won the nomination overwhelmingly in what was one of the nastiest, insult-riven primaries in recent memory. At the end it came down to Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Trump won with almost three times more delegates than his closest rival.
In the General Election, polls consistently had Clinton leading Trump — as high as 8 percent after a tape of him bragging about forcing himself on women made news and his poor performances in the three televised debates. But neither Trump’s lack of knowledge on the issues, nor his lack of moral values, shook his supporters’ faith. What polls showed, in fact, was that both candidates had the highest negative ratings and lowest public trust in any recent presidential campaign.
Part of the mistrust of Clinton was the result of a year-long campaign of disinformation spread by social media, fake news perpetrated through Facebook, and a focused campaign by Russian President Vladimir Putin to hack into the Democratic Party’s email system and leak embarrassing personal exchanges to undermine Clinton — serious issues that are now at the heart of a congressional investigation alleging that a foreign power actively sought to tamper with a U.S. election. WikiLeaks, cyber-attacks and fake news all became part of the nation’s vernacular in the final months of the campaign.
Still more controversy reigned as Trump lost the nationwide popular vote by more than 2 million votes, but won the Electoral College vote with 306 to Clinton’s 232. Four swing states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania) were decided by 1.5 percentage points or less, easily determining the fate of the election. Not only were Democrats stunned by Clinton’s surprise loss, but Republicans also won the House easily, while maintaining control of the U.S. Senate, 52-48, delivering a devastating blow to what Democrats had once considered a chance to regain control of the Senate and retain the presidency.
It was, without a doubt, one of the most chaotic elections from start to finish in modern U.S. history. Trump’s support of hate speech, racial bias and anti-immigration policies sparked a hate-crime wave throughout the nation in the election’s aftermath — reaching even into Middlebury, where two incidents of hate speech were documented for the first time in decades.
In Vermont’s gubernatorial election, Lt. Gov. Scott easily bested Democrat Sue Minter in an election that typically swings from one party to the next — moving from Democrat Peter Shumlin’s six-year stint back to the GOP. Polls had the race closer than the end result, but it was not the huge surprise seen on the national stage, and Democrats retained an overwhelming advantage in Vermont’s Legislature.