Douglas and Clavelle on the campaign trail

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(Host) Both Governor Jim Douglas and his Democratic challenger Peter Clavelle are often on the road these days talking one-on-one with voters.

Their styles are different, but the fundamental approach is the same. By meeting with small groups, the candidates hear what’s on people’s minds, and they offer their own prescription for change.

VPR’s John Dillon has this report from the campaign trail.

(Dillon) It’s noon and Governor Douglas is running a little late. At the McCauley Square senior housing project in Burlington, the small crowd gets a little restless.

(Sister Mary) “Well come on, Governor. We’ve got stuff we got to do too!”

(Dillon) At this stage of his re-election campaign, there aren’t a lot of big rallies on the schedule. But Douglas has traveled around the state almost constantly since taking office. This small, friendly crowd provides a chance to talk politics, or baseball.

(Douglas) “Hi sir, good to see you. Those Red Sox have to do a little better than they did last night. Uh oh! You want my vote? This is the Yankees side here!”

(Dillon) The Douglas campaign has aggressively gone after Clavelle and tried to brand him a tax-happy leftist. But Douglas himself avoids those kinds of attacks. In Burlington, he doesn’t mention his opponent. Instead, he highlights his record.

(Douglas) “We have the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the country. A higher percentage of lost manufacturing jobs have come back from the depths of the recession than in other states. So overall the economic strategy is successful.”

(Dillon) The audience quizzes the governor about housing and health care issues. Sister Mary Boiselle wants to know if the state plans to cut health programs for seniors. Douglas makes his first campaign promise of the afternoon.

(Douglas) “I’m prepared to pledge that there will not be any diminishment of the level of programs that we have for the seniors of Vermont, because you’ve come to expect that and the state has made that commitment to you.”

(Dillon) The silver-haired audience nods in agreement. Even the Democrats in the room seem impressed.

(Lambert) “I’m not a Republican but I want to express that I think you’ve done a good job in the 18 months that you’ve been here. And you need a longer term. I know you can’t fix everything in the short term that you have.”

(Dillon) Peter Clavelle will have to hold onto Democratic voters, and give them a reason to dump Douglas after two years. In Middlebury, Clavelle listens as about 20 people gather for a box lunch in a library basement. The crowd tells Clavelle how rising medical and housing costs have pressured the working poor.

(Crowd member) “I can’t afford to live in Addison County. I work here; I live in Rutland County. I can hardly afford that, so don’t even ask me how often I can’t afford to buy lots of things.”

(Dillon) The Burlington mayor has made health care reform the focus of his campaign. But he says the core issue is Douglas’ lack of leadership.

(Clavelle) “Fundamentally this election, come November second, will be a referendum on leadership. It’s real clear to me as I travel across the state that Vermonters realize that this country is going in the wrong direction.”

(Dillon) The audience includes many supporters, and they counsel Clavelle to highlight his record in governing the state’s largest city. The mayor doesn’t need much prompting. On energy issues, for example, he says Burlington’s experience offers a lesson for the rest of the state.

(Clavelle) “I don’t need to talk about it in the abstract. What I can say to voters – you know what? In Addison County you’re facing these new godawful transmission lines. Why? Because we as a state have not invested in energy efficiency and renewables. In Burlington we did, and as a result we’re using 2% less electricity than when I was elected 15 years ago. And we can do the same for the entire state, if there’s vision, if there’s bold leadership.”

(Dillon) This audience also nods in approval. And when lunch is over, Clavelle heads out into the rain to hand out more leaflets, and to meet more voters.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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