VERMONT - Vermont's primary elections are usually an afterthought in terms of presidential politics. But with no clear frontrunner apparent in key early-primary states - in either party - could this be the year Vermont is a factor in the race?
Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has emerged as the candidate of choice in a state that will almost certainly elect a Democrat in November. According to the latest campaign finance figures provided by www.Opensecrets.org, Vermont donations to Obama dwarf those to all other candidates - Republican or Democrat. The latest tally puts him in number-one fundraising place, with $324,542. That's miles ahead of former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA), who has raised $46,450; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), $29,800; and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), $28,750. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is in fifth place with $26,900.
In addition to collecting the most cash, Obama leads in the latest state poll. Conducted on 700 voters by the Vermont Democratic Party, the August poll shows 36 percent of Democrats favor Obama. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) is a not-so-close second with 29 percent, and Clinton is in third place with 10 percent. Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH-10) are fourth and fifth, respectively.
Interestingly, in February the American Research Group polled 600 Vermont Democrats. At that time, the numbers showed Clinton way ahead of Obama. She garnered 37 percent of the vote, while Obama trailed in second with just 19 percent; Edwards took third with 14 percent.
But those figures were compiled before Obama visited Vermont for an August fundraiser at the Norwich home of Bill and Jane Stetson. The appearance generated upwards of $250,000, and resulted in plenty of local media attention. Since then, State Attorney General William Sorrell and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding have offered endorsements..
Clinton counts former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin and State Speaker of the House Gaye Symington (D-Jericho) among her Vermont backers, according to VDP Executive Director Jill Krowinski.
On the Republican side, a leading candidate has yet to emerge in Vermont. In February, the American Research Group poll put McCain in the lead with 30 percent of Vermont Republicans, but Giuliani trailed a close second with 29 percent. All other candidates, including Romney, garnered less than 10 percent.
The Vermont Republican Party has not conducted its own voter poll. "So much has changed since February," says Party Chairman Rob Roper. "I see equal support for Giuliani and Romney, and of course McCain has had a presence in the state for some time."
In recent weeks, several Republican candidates have stepped up their advertising in Vermont. "They're starting to see the possibility that if this race is close even after the February super-duper Tuesday... we could have an influence," says Roper. "I think that would be pretty cool."
"I feel at this point that everything is still up for grabs," says Krowinski. But she's still cautious about the prospect of Vermont primary swaying the election. "There's definitely a possibility. I wouldn't rule it out, but there's a whole bunch of other states ahead of us," she says.