Clinton, Obama hoping for Vermont’s delegates

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(Host) Vermont’s presidential primary was once a political backwater. The voting often came long after the race was decided. And the state didn’t have enough delegates to make a difference.

That’s all changed this year. Democratic strategists say when the votes are tallied on Tuesday, Vermont will count as much as the big states of Ohio and Texas.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The lunchtime crowd at the Wayside diner on the Barre-Montpelier Road includes a number of undecided voters.

(Gendron) "I’m still debating who to vote for."

(Dillon) Judy Gendron of Berlin knows she’ll vote for a Democrat, but she’s torn between Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama.

(Gendron) "I’d like to see a woman in the White House. But I don’t know, have to think about it. I’m still debating whether if we want the same family in the White House for that long. That’s my main issue."

(Dillon) It’s a debate being played out all over the state. In some ways, Vermont’s Town Meeting day primary has become a microcosm of the national race. The Clinton and Obama campaigns have flooded the airwaves with TV ads. They’ve brought in surrogates, set up phone banks, and mobilized volunteers – all to win as many of the 16 regular delegates as possible.

(Nash) "This race is so close – everyone acknowledges that it’s so close – that the significance of Vermont is very, very important."

(Dillon) Bob Nash is Clinton’s deputy campaign manager.

(Nash) "I mean this race could literally be decided by a few delegates or a few thousand votes."

(Dillon) In the political mathematics of the Democratic race, Vermont could be as important as Ohio or Texas. That’s because delegates are awarded proportionately, not on a winner take all basis.

David Plouffe is Obama’s campaign manager. He did the delegate numbers in a conference call with Vermont reporters.

(Plouffe) "In the state of Ohio, for instance, let’s say one of us were to win by five points or less. The most likely scenario from a delegate standpoint would be one of us would net three delegates. Now, if one of us to win Vermont by some margin, you could actually net more than that out of the state of Vermont."

(Dillon) With the high stakes on Tuesday both campaigns have launched an expensive – and extensive – ground campaign. Obama has 10 paid staff and has opened seven offices. Clinton has almost as many staff in the state, and has offices in Rutland and Burlington. The campaign brought in former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton to appeal to the youth vote.

Polls show Obama has a comfortable lead. And Middlebury College Political Science Professor Eric Davis says the Illinois senator is trying to get a bonus boost of delegates out of Vermont.

(Davis) "If Senator Obama could increase his vote share in Vermont from 60 percent to 70 percent, that would mean like two more delegates, perhaps even three more delegates."

(Dillon) Turnout is expected to be very high on Tuesday. Davis says that with all the TV advertising in the last two weeks, this primary campaign will be the most expensive in Vermont history.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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