Vermont’s primary could play important role in Democratic race

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(Host) It’s starting to look like Vermont’s presidential primary could play an important role in the selection of a Democratic candidate.

That’s because many political observers believe senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will still be locked in a close race when Vermonters go to the polls on March 4th.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) While many political observers believe that Arizona senator John McCain could establish a commanding lead in the GOP race after the votes are tallied in the 22 state primaries that are being held on Super Tuesday, the outlook for the Democratic nomination is far less certain.

After Super Tuesday, there are a handful of primaries sprinkled throughout February, and then 4 states hold their election on March 4th; Vermont, Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says he expects Obama and Clinton will work hard to win Vermont’s 23 delegates:

(Dean) "I would be shocked after having split the first two primaries that suddenly there was a huge change in one direction of another on February 5th.  I don’t particularly want to have a brokered convention but these are some really strong candidates that we’ve got.  I think this will go probably into March I think the Vermont primary will most likely make a difference."

(Kinzel) And Dean thinks the spirited race between Clinton and Obama has been good for the Democratic Party:

(Dean) "Look, whatever they are saying abut each other the Republicans are going to say far worse things about us than they’re saying, so our candidates need to be tough and they need to be ready for the general election. This is a tough primary and a very good primary."

(Kinzel) Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis also thinks there will be a battle for Vermont’s Democratic delegates:

(Davis) "Although Vermont has only 23 delegates in a closely fought delegate race those 23 delegates could be very important, so I expect that both the Clinton and the Obama campaigns will work hard to get as many delegates as they can out of Vermont."

(Kinzel) Vermont has what’s known as an open primary system because there is no party registration in the state.  This means individuals can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary.   Davis thinks this system favors Obama:

(Davis) "Assuming Senator McCain has the Republican nomination wrapped up by March 4th, independents are allowed to vote in either party’s primary in Vermont and I expect the independents will gravitate heavily toward the Democratic primary and at least in other states we’ve seen Senator Obama doing better among the independents who vote in the Democratic primary."

(Kinzel) Davis says he expects that both Obama and Clinton will come to campaign in Vermont as part of a trip that includes a stop in Rhode Island.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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