John Durkin, 76

John Durkin

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Former U.S. Sen. 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.

Barry Conway, commandant of the New Hampshire Veterans Home, said Durkin died at Franklin Regional Hospital following a brief illness. Durkin, a senator from 1975 to 1980, had been living at the home since March 2011.

Durkin was elected to the Senate on Sept. 16, 1975, after a long fight that wound its way from New Hampshire to Washington and back again. He told The Associated Press in a 2008 interview that he wouldn’t wish the experience on his worst enemy.

“I’d much rather have read about it than have lived it,” he said.

The initial vote tally in November 1974 showed Republican U.S. Rep. Louis Wyman winning by 335 votes. A recount put Durkin up by 10 votes, prompting an appeal to the state Ballot Law Commission, which was charged with making decisions on write-ins, strangely marked ballots and voter intentions. The panel argued about whether a vote for “crooks” should be counted for Durkin or Wyman; it ended up being thrown out.

After the commission ruled that Wyman won by two votes, Durkin appealed to the U.S. Senate, which handed the matter to its rules committee. But the committee sent it back to the full Senate. After 30 days of discussion, 32 roll call votes and a record-setting six cloture votes to cut off debate, the Senate declared the seat vacant on July 30, 1975, and returned the race to New Hampshire for a Sept. 16 runoff. Durkin won by 27,000 votes and was sworn in two days later.

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