State's vote may matter after all

Posted

Thursday, February 7
BRATTLEBORO -- A few months ago, political prognosticators scoffed at Vermont's paltry 23 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. But with the race between Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., threatening to extend well into mud season, Vermont may matter after all.

"As a matter of sheer arithmetic, I think Obama and Clinton would be crazy to ignore Vermont going forward, and they won't do that," said Vermont Democratic Party chairman Ian Carleton.

The results of Super Tuesday's 24-state voting spree clarified the race for the Republican presidential nomination, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., grabbing at least 605 delegates and becoming the prohibitive front-runner. But on the Democratic side, Obama's and Clinton's near split puts the latter just 85 delegates ahead of the former.

"The state of the race between Obama and Clinton is such that every delegate counts," said Middlebury political science professor Eric Davis. "I think we may well see Obama and Clinton in Vermont."

Following Super Tuesday's 2,084-delegate contest, the four states voting March 4 -- Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont -- will offer the second largest single-day haul of the season, with 444 delegates up for grabs. While the candidates will likely spend most of their time in the two powerhouse states holding primaries that day, Davis believes they may swing through the Green Mountain state -- or at least touch down at the Burlington International Airport -- on a day trip that would include a stop in Rhode Island.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said she is not so sure the campaigns will drop by Vermont -- but they could.

"It may well happen, but the campaigns will have to calculate the value of those stops," she said. "Vermont is really strongly in the Obama camp, so does Obama need to come here again? He's been here before he actually started the campaign. It isn't too far from Hillary's home. Could it be worth a stop for her?"

While the 17 Vermont delegates to the Republican National Convention will be elected on a winner-take-all basis, 16 of the 23 Democratic delegates will be selected based on the proportion of the vote the candidates receive. The remaining seven Vermonters headed to the convention are "super delegates" -- usually party leaders and elected officials.

Most of the state's super delegates have already committed to candidates and nearly all of them support Obama. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Peter Welch, State Democratic Party vice chairwoman Judy Bevans and Democratic National Committeeman Chuck Ross have all endorsed the Illinois senator. Carleton will not officially commit to a candidate until after the primary, but he said, "I think it's fair to say I'm leaning toward Obama."

Only DNC committeewoman Billi Gosh is backing Clinton. The state's seventh delegate, DNC chairman and former governor Howard Dean, is neutral.

Since he moved to Vermont in 1980, Davis said he recalls only two election cycles during which "the campaigns took Vermont seriously." Both the Democratic and Republican primaries were still competitive when Vermont voted in 1980, as was the Democratic primary in 1988, he said.

"It's a consequence of two things," Davis said of this year's extended contest. "The Democratic race narrowed down rapidly to two very strong candidates, and proportional representation encourages all candidates to campaign in all states."

For her part, Markowitz said she's enjoying the show.

"It's exciting to see how close it is on the Democratic side in particular," she said. "It's fun to watch."

Paul Heintz can be reached at pheintz@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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