MONTPELIER — Vermont’s Legislature will decide the winner of the governor’s race in January after neither candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote. Governor Peter Shumlin held a narrow lead over Republican challenger Scott Milne early Wednesday, but the race was too close to call.
With 90 percent of precincts reporting as of shortly before midnight, Shumlin had won 46.7 percent of the counted votes, according to an Associated Press tally. Milne had 45.2 percent, with five other candidates accounting for the balance.
Under Vermont’s Constitution, if no candidate for governor, lieutenant governor, or treasurer gets an outright majority, the election goes to the state Legislature. Democrats are expected to maintain control of both houses, but the Legislature nearly always chooses the plurality winner in a gubernatorial election — the last time it didn’t was in 1853.
Milne, who did not enter the race until late spring and whose campaign fund-raising was dwarfed by Shumlin’s, appeared early in the campaign to be a long-shot underdog, as was still reflected in media polling in October.
But Shumlin’s own fortunes appeared to have sagged under the technical problems suffered by the Vermont Health Connect website his administration launched 14 months ago under the Affordable Care Act. He also came under fire from critics who charged he took advantage of a poor and intellectually limited neighbor in a land deal in 2013.
Milne said his near defeat of Shumlin — he might have won if conservative Libertarian Dan Feliciano, the third-place finisher, had not garnered 4.3 percent of the vote — was ‘‘a referendum on Peter Shumlin’s leadership of the state over the past four years.’’ He called on the Democrat to change course if he continues in office.
Speaking to supporters gathered at a Burlington hotel Tuesday night, Shumlin declined to claim victory.
‘‘We’re going to let the votes be counted, get some sleep, and come back tomorrow with all the votes in and continue to move forward,’’ he said.
In other races, Democrat Peter Welch easily won a fifth term as the state’s lone representative in the US House, turning aside the second challenge in as many elections from Republican Mark Donka.