Straw poll says Obama is leading Democratic candidate in Vermont

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(Host) According to a recent straw poll of Vermont Democrats, Illinois senator Barack Obama is the party’s leading presidential candidate for 2008.

Political observers say the big surprise of the poll is the poor showing by New York senator Hillary Clinton.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) First, some important details about the straw poll. It’s not scientific and it reflects the views of individuals who receive regular emails from the Vermont Democratic Party.

There are about 12,000 people on this list and roughly 800 responded to the survey.

Senator Obama got 36% of the vote. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards was a close second at 29% and New York Senator Hillary Clinton was a distant third at 10%.

Democratic Party Chair Ian Carleton says Obama’s strong showing isn’t a surprise:

(Carleton) "It’s not just reflective of his popularity here, it’s also reflective of the fact that he’s got a fairly well organized operation up and running in Vermont, which is not to say that he’s got a campaign office. But he’s got identifiable supporters who are proactively reaching out. They’re fundraising for him. They’re trying to get people interested and I think that that’s reflected in these numbers as well."

(Kinzel) Carleton says many Democratic activists in Vermont strongly oppose the war in Iraq and he thinks Senator Clinton’s vote to support the war in late 2002 is a factor in her poor showing:

(Carleton) "Voters in Vermont as well as voters across this country are probably looking at this president race very much through the prism of what has happened in Iraq and what the Bush Administration has led us to. So the candidates respective positions on the war in Iraq and what those positions have been over time is a significant factor."

(Kinzel) Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says there are a number of reasons why many Vermont Democrats are attracted to the Obama campaign.

(Davis) "The fact that he’s an outsider, the fact that he’s very outspoken against the war – he frames his campaign in terms of he offers the most potential for change of any of the Democratic candidates."

(Kinzel) Davis agrees that Clinton’s initial support for the Iraq war hurts her candidacy in Vermont and he believes there’s another key factor:

(Davis) "In some parts of the state, particularly in the western side of the state, there may be on the environmental issues some people who remember that Hillary Clinton, as a senator from New York, supported the International Paper Company’s plan to burn tires at the Tigonderoga mill saying it was necessary for keeping jobs in that economically depressed part of upstate New York."

(Kinzel) Davis says he doubts that the Vermont primary will have much of an impact on the outcome of the Democratic presidential campaign because so many states have scheduled their primary elections in January and February -Vermont’s will be held on March 4th.

Davis says he’s convinced that one of the Democratic candidates will emerge as a clear winner before the Vermont’s primary but he says he believes the race for the Republican nomination could still be in play at that time.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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