The 2014 midterm elections, in which the United States voted for representatives, senators and governors, had many momentous races. Overall, it was a very good night for the Republican Party, but within that narrative, there were many different stories.
Vermont is, like most of the United States, a unique state. It is one of the most liberal of the states, as well as one of the smallest in population. It also has two unusual features in how it runs its gubernatorial elections: it elects the governor every two years, rather than every four, and in a gubernatorial election in which none of the candidates win a majority, it sends the election to the legislature to be decided.
Peter Shumlin was first elected governor of Vermont in 2010, and won reelection in 2012. Previous to being governor, he had been a member of the Vermont legislature. His challenger, Scott Milne, is a professional travel agent with no political experience. Given the fact that Shumlin was an incumbent Democratic governor running in a very liberal state, against a Republican candidate with no political experience, the result should have been an early and overwhelming landslide victory.
Except, it wasn't. Throughout most of election night, Milne led Shumlin, and it was only when returns came back from the most liberal communities in Vermont that Shumlin pulled ahead. However, he did not manage to win a majority, instead winning a narrow plurality of votes over Milne, only winning by several thousand votes. The election will thus be decided by the Vermont state legislature, which will almost certainly decide in Shumlin's favor, both because he won the plurality and because it is a Democratic legislature.
But why did Shumlin come so close to losing? Much of the popular wisdom focuses on health care, specifically the fact that Vermont (like many states) had delays and problems when rolling out their state healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act. Shumlin has also advocated for Vermont forming a single payer health care system, making it the first state in the union to do so. Much of the commentary on the race has focused on the election being a referendum on health care. This seems to be a reasonable assumption, and Milne did state on his campaign website that health care was one of the three main issues of his campaign. It does serve as a lesson that had Barack Obama and the Democratic Party pushed for single payer healthcare instead of the less radical individual mandate, the backlash in 2010 would have been even bigger than it was.
But on the other hand, it shouldn't be taken for granted that the election was over health care. Although less of an issue on the national stage, issues like property taxes and economic growth are important, and indeed those were both issues mentioned by Milne on his campaign website. So while it is true the election in Vermont shows signs of being about the nature of 2014 as a strong Republican year, and as a tile in the larger mosaic of a national debate about health care, it was probably also the result of local politics, always a factor and especially so in Vermont, which is a small state where local affairs are a priority.