(Host) President Barack Obama is campaigning in Burlington Friday. It’s his first visit to Vermont as president.
The president is projected to carry Vermont comfortably. But his level of support here in the fall will depend heavily on how the economy is faring in those regions of the state that are still experiencing tepid economic growth and high unemployment.
VPR’s Kirk Carapezza visited Newport, where unemployment was 9.4 percent last month.
(Carapezza) Walk down Newport’s main street and you’ll find a mix of new restaurants and cafes. You’ll also see old, empty storefronts.
And at the end of the street a fourth-generation grain company that produces livestock feed.
(Poulin) "A slower economy means less product going out the door."
(Carapezza) Josh Poulin owns Poulin Grain. He stands next to a packaging machine.
Sales have plummeted since 2008. Poulin says it’s been the company’s worst slump since his great-grandfather started this business in 1932. And over the past three years, he’s had to cut back.
(Poulin) "We used to work six days and now we’re working five. Just the cost of being open Saturday for what we were doing for volume on Saturday just didn’t make sense."
(Carapezza) President Obama has shown optimism about the economy and his administration’s work to turn it around. But some independents like Josh Poulin don’t buy it.
(Poulin) "You know I think he talks a lot about change. I haven’t seen a lot of change."
(Carapezza) President Obama overwhelmingly won Vermont four years ago. And a recent poll found that his supporters here are still very much committed to him, despite the economy. But can he reach those independent voters who think the administration has prolonged the slump?
(Dickinson) "This is a problem he’s facing nationwide, not just in Vermont."
(Carapezza) Matt Dickinson is a political science professor at Middlebury College. He says the economy has emerged as the issue driving voters’ decisions.
(Dickinson) "Three quarters of voters are saying the economy and the budget deficit are the most important issues. When Obama ran in 2008, the economy was important. But there were other issues. There was the Iraq War. There was immigration. Those have faded."
(Carapezza) Dickinson says Obama’s support will drop – even in the bluest of blue states – because of the economy.
At the Newport Natural Café, Patricia Sears grabs a bite to eat during a business lunch. Sears is executive director of the Newport City Renaissance Corporation. Her husband grew up in Newport, and she likes to spend her time touting the city’s potential. She’s unquestionably optimistic.
(Sears) "We do have the highest unemployment rate in the state. We also probably have the highest underemployed. So it’s a very sturdy group of people who are trying to do the best they can with what they have."
(Carapezza) Sears voted for Obama in 2008, and she’s very excited about his Vermont visit. She gives his administration the benefit of the doubt.
(Sears) "I think he has definitely been proactive given the set of circumstances he came into. Four years sometimes is not enough."
(Carapezza) And that’s the narrative Obama will try to sell at his campaign events Friday, as he hopes to convince them that he’s secured the economy enough to earn another term, their support and their campaign dollars.
For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.