Hardy and Bray sweep in a crowded Senate race

ADDISON COUNTY — Democrats will continue what has been a 16-year grip on the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore. First-time candidate Ruth Hardy and incumbent Sen. Chris Bray easily won election amid heavy voting on Tuesday throughout the county.
Hardy, a former Middlebury school board official and the executive director of Emerge Vermont, was the top vote-getter, garnering 8,875 tallies. Bray, a three-term incumbent, finished second, with 8,723 votes.
Finishing out of the running, according to Vermont Secretary of State numbers, were:
•  Addison Republican Peter Briggs, with 5,072 votes.
•  Bridport Independent Marie Audet, with 4,863 tallies in her first run for office.
•  Middlebury Independent Paul Ralston, the CEO of Vermont Coffee Company, who garnered 2,953 tallies.
•  New Haven Libertarian Archie Flower, who rounded out the field with 583 votes.
It’s a race that drew statewide attention, in part because of a vacancy created by the impending retirement of longtime Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison. State Democrats were concerned that Ralston — a former Democrat and representative of the Addison-1 House district — and Audet might pull votes away from Bray and Hardy.
Ralston has been vocal on economic development issues and growing businesses, while Audet has been a frequent spokesperson on Addison County agricultural issues.
But when the dust finally settled on Wednesday morning, Hardy and Bray had comfortably sailed to victory on a blue wave that splashed through an already politically azure county. It’s a wave that swept incumbent Republican Reps. Fred Baser of Bristol and Warren Van Wyck of Ferrisburgh out of office (see related stories on Page 1A).
Either Hardy or Bray topped the field in all Addison County communities except Addison and Leicester (which went to Briggs), and Bridport, Orwell, Shoreham and Weybridge, which went to Audet.
 “I’m thrilled and honored that voters of the Addison County Senate district came out strong in my favor, and I’m excited to serve the district,” Hardy said Tuesday evening, after the outcome of the election was no longer in doubt. “I’m really proud of my team and all of the people who’ve been working to help me get elected and run a really strong campaign. I’ve had literally hundreds of people working with me on this… so it’s been a strong team effort.”
And it should be noted Hardy knows about elections. As leader of the non-profit organization Emerge Vermont, she’s helped many women break into state and local politics. She used that knowledge for her own benefit this year, and announced her run on the heels of Ayer’s retirement announcement this past spring.
“It’s been a tremendous asset to my ability to run an effective campaign,” she said of her Emerge experience. “We knew from the start how to plan a campaign and how to execute that plan. Even with unexpected opponents jumping in… I stuck with the plan.”
Hardy raised more than $30,000 in her Senate bid, a record for an Addison County election.
Hardy is currently on sabbatical from Emerge. Her priorities for the upcoming biennium include making child care more accessible and affordable to Vermonters, promoting paid family leave, pushing for more affordable housing, and advocating for universal access to primary care.
“There’s a lot of work to do, and I can’t wait to get going on it,” Hardy said.
Bray was gratified to receive a new two-year mandate from county voters.
“I’m happy to have had a very active campaign season this year,” Bray said. “It was a great time for people to be actively engaged in Democracy.”
While some candidates preferred to stay away from talk of fees, taxes and regulations in an election year, Bray wasn’t afraid to pitch ideas on solar siting and suggesting a per-parcel fee to help pay for cleaning up the state’s waterways.
“I am serving in order to get things done; I am not serving to get re-elected,” Bray said. “If you don’t put a proposal on the table, fairly often no one else will, and you’ll just be stuck.”
Bray believes Tuesday’s vote was an affirmation of the work he’s been doing in Montpelier. Prior to joining the Senate, Bray served four years in the House representing Addison-5.
 “I’ve worked hard for a decade on a lot of programs I honestly believe are in our county’s and state’s best interests, whether we’re talking food, clean energy, or clean water,” Bray said. “To have such a strong vote tells me that people agree and want to see us make progress in those directions. It’s great to have that kind of affirmation. An election is a chance to ask the toughest question every two years: ‘Am I on the right track, from your point of view?’ I had hoped and believed I was based on what I’ve been hearing the past 10 years.”
Ralston was gracious in defeat.
“The Democrats had a good night, and they are to be congratulated,” he said. “Marie and I worked hard, and now we’ll return to our regular lives. I really hoped Marie would be elected, but the voters decided otherwise.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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