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John Durkin, 76; served N.H. in US Senate in 1970s

New Hampshire’s Ballot Law Commission initially ruled that John Durkin had lost the 1974 election by two votes.

C. Harrity/Associated Press/file 1974

New Hampshire’s Ballot Law Commission initially ruled that John Durkin had lost the 1974 election by two votes.

CONCORD, N.H. — Former US Senator John Durkin, a New Hampshire Democrat who won his seat in 1975 in one of the closest elections in Senate history, died Tuesday. He was 76.

Senator Durkin, who served from 1975 to 1980, died at Franklin Regional Hospital following a brief illness.

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Senator Durkin was elected to the Senate after a long fight that wound from New Hampshire to Washington and back.

‘‘I’d much rather have read about it than have lived it,’’ he said in a 2008 interview.

The initial vote tally in November 1974 showed US Representative Louis Wyman, a Republican, winning by 335 votes. A recount put Senator Durkin up by 10 votes, prompting an appeal to the state Ballot Law Commission. The panel argued about whether a vote for “crooks’’ should be counted for Senator Durkin or for Wyman; it ended up being thrown out.

After the commission ruled that Wyman won by two votes, Senator Durkin appealed to the US Senate, which handed the matter to its rules committee. But the committee sent it back to the full Senate. After 30 days of discussion and 32 roll call votes, the Senate declared the seat vacant. Senator Durkin won a runoff by 27,000 votes.

Wyman became a judge and died in 2002. Senator Durkin lost in 1980 to Warren Rudman. He ran in 1990 but lost to Bob Smith. In later years, he worked as an attorney in Manchester and Washington.

John Durkin was born and grew up in Brookfield, Mass. He graduated from Holy Cross College in 1959 and earned a law degree from Georgetown.

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