PEABODY — Novice candidate Leah Cole shocked her establishment opponent Greg Bunn last night, taking the Republican primary for state representative by 52 votes.
Cole will go on to battle school board veteran Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, a Democrat, and unenrolled City Councilor David Gravel in the April 2 special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Joyce Spiliotis in November.
That was the good news for Cole. Less encouraging was a Republican turnout that failed to reach 1,000 voters (out of roughly 2,500 registered Republicans and vastly more eligible unenrolled voters).
Fewer Democrats voted, but even though she was unopposed, Griffin Dunne managed to garner more votes, 606, than either Bunn (460) or Cole (512).
City Clerk Tim Spanos set the overall turnout at a dismal 6 percent.
Cole’s campaign manager, Ryan Chamberland, made the victory announcement to a cheering group squeezed into Champions Pub on Foster Street. “I would like to officially introduce you to the Republican nominated for the 12th Essex District — Leah Cole!”
“I couldn’t have done it without you guys,” said Cole, whose small stature had her almost lost for a moment in the crush of winter coats. “We went out to the grass roots.” She credited hard work and door-to-door campaigning for her success, as well as a promise to fight tax increases.
“And a lot of people were very excited to see someone young running for office,” said Cole, who is 24.
It might be a concern for Cole that a good portion of her supporters came from out of town. Chamberland, whose work was financed by the Republican City Committee of Marlborough, hails from Blackstone.
“I like what she had to say,” said supporter Larry Sposato of Bellingham. He cited her interest in libertarian principles of low taxes, small government and her disinterest in social issues.