(Host) In nearly seven years in office, President Bush has visited every state in the country except one: Vermont.
What keeps George Bush away?
Ben and Jerry?
VPR’s Steve Zind went looking for answers.
(Zind) In a rural state with barely more than 600,000 residents, it’s fair to begin with the most basic question: Is it even possible for the President to get to Vermont.
(Sounds of planes)
(Zind) The state’s largest airport in Burlington sees more than its share of puddle jumpers, but Director Brian Searles says there’s plenty landing room for Air Force One.
(Searles) "8,320 feet of main runway. Certainly Air Force One would have no problem coming in and out of Burlington."
(Zind) "Do you have a red carpet?"
(Searles) "Of course we have a red carpet!"
(Zind) Once the practical considerations are put to rest, all that remains is speculation – and there’s plenty of that at the Coffee Corner Restaurant in Montpelier.
(sounds of home fries cooking, background chatter)
(Zind) Here, just a few feet from the city’s only downtown traffic light, political talk has mixed with the sizzle of home fries for nearly 50 years.
Owner Brian Mitofsky thinks Vermont has landed in presidential purgatory because of one man and one man only.
(Mitofsky) "He hasn’t visited Vermont because of Howard Dean."
(Zind) Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and strident Bush critic now heads the Democratic National Committee.
Most Vermonters don’t blame him, though. They point to the fact the state has only three electoral votes, and, politically speaking, Vermont doesn’t swing. It hasn’t voted for a Republican president in nearly 20 years. It’s hardly a prize for the national campaigns to fight over.
The president’s approval rating has sunk lower here than practically anywhere in the country and if Coffee Corner patrons Katherine Fanelli, Leeds Brewer and Peter Burmeister are offended by his lack of attention they’re hiding it well.
(Fanelli) "It sets us apart, in a good way."
(Brewer) "This is a great thing. This really is a badge of honor. It’s not a slight."
(Burmeister) "I’m grateful." (laughter)
(Zind) The odd man out in this big corner booth is lifelong Republican Jimmy Johnston.
Even he isn’t anxious for the president to visit. He says it’ll just provide his booth-mates and their friends with an opportunity to make a scene.
(Johnson) "What’s he got to gain by coming here? To get abuse more than he’s getting abused right now?"
(Zind) Seated in another booth is a regular everyone calls Lola. She’s the wife of the late George Aiken. For 33 years Aiken represented Vermont in the U.S. Senate.
To the nation, he personified plainspoken Yankee values, once famously announcing the U.S. should declare victory in Vietnam and get out.
Lola wants President Bush to visit.
(Aiken) "Personally, I think the Governor should send a special invitation."
(Zind) Actually, Vermont’s Republican Governor Jim Douglas says he has talked to the president and invited him to come.
It seems the response was something greater than passing interest, but less than total commitment. Still, Douglas is optimistic.
(Douglas) "He certainly wants to come here at some point and I’m sure he’ll find the right opportunity."
(Zind) Vermont political analysts say the president won’t be coming around until after the next election, because he’s seen as a liability to Republican candidates here.
But sometime during the last two months of his term, they expect the president will make a quick trip to the Green Mountain State.
Is it important to the president that he visit all 50 states before he leaves office? So far, the White House isn’t saying.
For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais