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In 2nd Franklin, Andrews wins narrowly

ORANGE — Incumbent state Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, hung on to her seat in Tuesday’s election by the closest of margins, pushing back the strongest Republican challenge in years for the Second Franklin District seat by just 180 votes.

Susannah Whipps Lee, the Athol selectman whom Andrews had linked to an anonymous and erroneous narcotics complaint, had not conceded defeat in the three-way race by deadline Wednesday and was unsure whether she would ask for a recount.

Andrews, a freshman legislator with a district that has been reconfigured around the North Quabbin area and no longer includes Greenfield, captured 8,264 votes to Lee’s 8,084 — or 45.3 percent to Lee’s 44.3 percent. With 10.4 percent of the vote, independent Richard F. Schober Jr. of Templeton finished a distant third in a campaign focused largely on the issue of how to bring jobs to the financially strapped district.

For much of Tuesday night, it appeared that Lee was in the lead, winning Athol by nearly 1,100 votes and even carrying Andrews’ hometown of Orange by more than 160 votes, along with smaller wins in the northern Worcester County towns of Phillipston, Petersham and Templeton. But Andrews won in Gill, Warwick and Erving, which she has served in her first term, and carried New Salem, and had better than 2-1 margins in Wendell and the single Belchertown precinct included in the new district.

Republican challengers in the past have won 42 percent of the vote, as in the case of the 2010 three-way race, or about 25 percent of the vote, as in 2008 and 2004. But that was in the previous six-town district dominated by Greenfield.

Andrews, who won election in 2010 as a newcomer to politics after more than 25 years of working in corporate management, primarily at Procter & Gamble in Ohio, was out at 7 a.m. Wednesday — five hours after returning from a reception with supporters where it “was right down to the last town with the last votes coming in — thanking supporters at visibility events in three of the new district’s 12 towns before a breakfast at Quabbin Valley Nursing Home.

“I’m excited to take it to the next level,” she said. “I’m thrilled to have the chance to serve the new towns and to continue with the old towns. Our work is to accelerate how we work together and get results for our district on jobs, on taking care of families and growing shared prosperity. We’ve got to work together as we’ve worked together before.”

Asked about the closeness of the race, Andrews said she was not surprised, given that half of the district is new and “more moderate” than the current six-town jurisdiction. “To me, that’s the key learning.”

Nor did Andrews say it was a rugged night for her watching the closeness of the race.

“I don’t sweat that stuff out; I go to the divine order,” said Andrews. “I do what I know to do, to stay centered on the good values of life and to have faith. We have serious issues we’re dealing with in this district, and I’m focused on the energy we need to continue that agenda.”

Lee, who said she has 10 days to decide whether she will ask for a recount and has begun talking with town clerks — some of whom handled better than 80 percent turnouts. She told The Recorder, “I’m overwhelmed with the support of my neighbors coming out in support of me. I’m a winner today. I’m very, very pleased and honored with all the results in my hometown, and from her town.”

As Tuesday night wore on, and Lee and her supporters saw other Republicans, like Sen. Scott Brown, faltering, it began to become clear that her own campaign might suffer.

“We hadn’t thought that would be the case,” said Lee, who co-owns a family manufacturing business in Athol. “The people who know me supported me. I’m going to focus my efforts on my community.”

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