An incumbent who missed the filing deadline has set up a five-person race for two seats that serve Essex and Orleans counties in the Vermont Senate.

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Glover, an Essex-Orleans district senator since 2012, missed the filing deadline to get on the Democratic primary ballot.

He finished a distant third in the Aug. 11 primary as a write-in, behind fellow incumbent Robert Starr of Troy and three-time challenger Ron Horton of Jay.

Unphased by the setback, Rodgers decided to run in the Nov. 3 general election as an Independent after missing the deadline, because “write-ins are always such a long shot.

“I asked my friends to write me in, but I didn’t think I had any chance to get the write-in,” votes with two other Democrats on the ballot.

Running as an Independent candidate sets up the five-person race for the district’s two seats. For the Republicans, Newport-native Russ Ingalls tallied 3,318 votes in the primary, while political newcomer Jon Morin of Holland received enough write-in votes to get his name on the general election ballot.

The two-member Essex-Orleans district includes all of Essex and Orleans County as well as Wolcott, the only Lamoille County town not included in the single-member, nine-town Lamoille Senate district.

A missed opportunity

Rodgers missed the filing deadline, he said, because of several new business ventures he and his wife have taken on. Along with running a construction company, the couple recently purchased the family farm to expand a hemp business and also took over Rodgers Country Inn, started by his grandmother.

“Between all of it I’ve been working seven days a week,” Rodgers said, a schedule that has forced him to miss some legislative committee work and drawn the criticism of fellow senators and his political opponents.

Rodgers missed the deadline by less than 24 hours.

“In this day and age, if that’s the worst thing I have to deal with I’m a pretty lucky guy,” Rodgers said, admitting that he cut it too closely.

If he wins in November as an Independent, Rodgers said he’ll likely caucus with Democrats, rather than remain an unaffiliated Independent.

“I’ve always run as a Democrat. I’ve always considered myself a Democrat,” he said, and while the party has shifted to the left, “especially in urban areas,” Rodgers still thinks of himself as a real “Vermont Democrat.”

“I assess everything on its merits, every issue as an individual thing,” he said. “I work for the voters of the district, not the party.”

By the numbers

Rodgers received some support in both the Democratic and Republican primaries despite his decision not to push for write-in votes.

Starr earned 2,835 votes to lead the Democrats, Horton had 2,237, while Rodgers received 171 write-ins.

Ingalls received 3,318 votes in the Republican primary, with Morin getting 266 write-in votes. Starr also had 238 write-in votes on the Republican ticket; Rodgers received 112 and Horton got 45.

Rodgers and Starr have represented the Essex-Orleans district for almost a decade, and they have both easily won re-election every two years since 2012.

Rodgers thinks that his name recognition will turn out the votes for him on election day.

“At this point, I’ve helped a ton of people through the pandemic. I’ve been on the phone and emailing a lot, helping people with things like unemployment,” Rodgers said. “I’ve worked hard for rural Vermont over the years. I think people know who I am and I’m hoping they appreciate how hard I work, no matter what the letter is by my name.”

Starr, first elected as state senator for the district in 2004, has been the top vote getter in every general election since 2006. He would appear to have a lock on one of the district’s two seats.

In 2012, the year Rodgers first ran to replace long-time senator Vince Illuzzi, Starr got 8,228 votes while Rodgers edged out Republican Robert Lewis, 7,379 to 7,324.

In the next three elections, the same scenario played out, with Starr and Rodgers winning the most votes against their Republican challengers.

Rodgers might have name recognition, but he isn’t taking anything for granted.

“In a two-seat district, the numbers are always unpredictable,” Rodgers said.

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