BRATTLEBORO -- Two years ago, in a race that attracted 241,605 votes for Vermont governor, Democrat Peter Shumlin won by just 4,331.
So it's no surprise that Shumlin still credits his native Windham County -- where he bested Republican Brian Dubie by 4,164 votes -- with playing a big role in his ascension to the governor's office.
"I wouldn't be here without Windham County," Shumlin said. "I won the primary and general election two years ago due to the tremendous support I received in Windham County."
However, local Democratic leaders are taking nothing for granted as Shumlin pursues a second term. And his Republican opponent, state Sen. Randy Brock, is not ceding this part of the state, either.
"There are some people who are independent, who want to hear alternative voices -- want to hear issues a little differently," Brock said during a Wednesday campaign swing through Brattleboro.
Shumlin, then a state Senator, did not have an easy ride to victory in a wide-open 2010 race after former Gov. James Douglas did not seek a new term.
Shumlin squeaked through a primary featuring four other Democrats and then narrowly defeated Dubie, then Vermont's lieutenant governor, with only 49.5 percent of the vote to Dubie's 47.7 percent.
The Putney native garnered 60.6 percent of Windham County's vote. Dubie did slightly better in his home county of Essex, where he won 61 percent.
But Essex residents cast only
Bill Johnson, who heads Windham County Democratic Committee, predicts an even higher Windham vote percentage for Shumlin in November's general election.
"He's been Putney-focused most of his life," Johnson said. "He's one of us."
It doesn't hurt that it is a presidential election year, which will drive voter turnout higher in a Democratic state.
But even in light of the 2010 results and a likely large Democratic voter turnout in November, local Democrats say they are not running on cruise control. Vermont has a history of electing Republican governors and, as one of only two states that elect governors biennially, doesn't allow its chief executives to rest on their laurels for very long.
"That's the thing about Vermont," Johnson said. "You have to go back to the electorate every two years."
He noted that there is a Democratic coordinated-campaign office in Brattleboro, and get-out-the-vote activities will include phone banks and door-to-door canvassing.
"It is an extremely active effort," Johnson said.
Brock, who is based in Franklin County, knows the odds are against him in a liberal corner of a liberal-leaning state.
"Windham County is always tough for Republicans in Vermont," he said. "It's probably the toughest county in Vermont."
Still, he said he is "trying to compete for every vote" from now through Nov. 6. His stops during his most-recent visit to Windham County included Brattleboro Union High School and a Brattleboro Rotary Club luncheon.
He added that, all over Vermont, he has encountered "lifelong Democrats and, indeed, some Progressives who, for one reason or another in this race, are voting differently."
Brock, a former state auditor and executive vice president for Fidelity Investments, has been calling out Shumlin on several issues. The candidates have clashed on the governor's push to move Vermont to a centralized, single-payer health-care system later this decade.
Brock held a health-care news conference Wednesday in Berlin. During an interview at the Reformer later that day, he compared the state's single-payer plan to "driving in a car at 100 mph in a dense fog, not really sure of where we're going."
He advocates a market-based health-care plan that "identifies the drivers of high health-care costs and then determines what we can do about them."
Brock also has said Shumlin's plan would lead to health-care "rationing," a term that the governor volleyed back to his opponent.
"Our visions for the state of Vermont could not be more different," Shumlin said. "I would argue that the current system in Vermont creates rationing."
The idea, Shumlin said, is to ensure equal health-care access for every Vermonter. Brock's plan, the governor said, is a "nightmare for Vermonters who are old, sick or have a pre-existing condition."
He added that he believes health-care reform "will be a huge job creator."
Shumlin has promoted his economic record. The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August was 5.3 percent, up slightly from the previous month but still far below the 8.1 percent national average.
Shumlin said Vermont leads the nation in "green high-tech jobs," and he also touted his efforts to expand broadband access and boost agriculture.
"We're making real progress," he said, later adding that "one thing I think about every day is how we can continue to grow Windham County."
Brock, however, said economic concerns are the No. 1 issue he has encountered statewide -- Windham County included. He acknowledged Vermont's relatively low unemployment rate but said the number of people in the workforce is declining.
"We have a crisis in terms of jobs," Brock said. "We have a lack of jobs."
He added that, as governor, he would "put the best minds in Vermont to work putting Vermonters to work."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.