(Host) Four years ago, 60 percent of Americans voted in the presidential election. That was the highest turnout since 1968.
Even more Americans are expected to vote next week. But is excitement over the presidential campaigns trickling down to local races?
VPR’s Nina Keck talked with voters, candidates and campaign volunteers in Rutland County and filed this report.
(Keck) In the last two months alone, more than 13,000 names have been added to Vermont’s voter registration list. One of them belongs to Emily Balivet, who took time out last week to register at Pittsford’s public library. Library Director Bonnie Stewart administered the voter oath.
(Voter oath) "You solemnly swear (or affirm) that whenever you give your vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the state of Vermont, you will do it so as in your conscience you shall judge will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person?”
“There you go, congratulations.”
“Absolutely, hell ya!” (laughter)
(Keck) Balivet who recently moved to Pittsford from Rochester, Vermont, says there’s definitely a buzz surrounding the election.
(Balivet) "It almost seems like a do-or-die situation and just the intensity of the day is coming. And just the feeling just now of having registered the – whew – I can check that off my list."
(Keck) And it’s not just Balivet who’s feeling a sense of urgency. People all over Rutland County described similar feelings – mostly because of one key issue.
(old fashioned cash register cha ching!)
"The economy obviously is number one.”
“People are concerned about the economy.”
“My concern for the candidates revolves around the ecomomic status of . . .”
“Obviously, the economy . . .”
“Clearly money is a big one.”
“Basically everyone has fears about the economy and how can we do things better.”
(Keck) The economic downturn is on everyone’s mind, says Rutland Senator Bill Carris, a Democrat who just finished his first term. 2:00
(Carris) "Everybody understands that the state budget is going to be off. They understand the whole national economic situation. But I think the big thing affecting us is state money and the state budget and how are we going to handle that."
(Keck) Carris and other local candidates have been working hard to showcase their priorities for that budget at local libraries, potluck suppers, political rallies and local debates. Carris says increased interest in the presidential race has been a plus.
(Carris) "We’re getting a lot of activity at Democratic headquarters in Rutland and I think that’s just dragging people along to be more interested than less"
(Broyles) "Good afternoon, thank you for calling the Rutland county GOP … Hello there. Yes, we have the McCain signs in. . .”
(Keck) Two blocks away, Bradford Broyles sits under smiling photographs of John McCain and Sarah Palin at Rutland’s Republican headquarters. Broyles says they, too, have seen a surge in visits. Interest has been especially high, he says, in the campaigns for Rutland City’s house seats Two years ago, in a surprise upset, Democrats swept all four seats, ousting two well known incumbents. Broyles says that race still hurts.
(Broyles) "Maybe we took things a little too comfortably and I think that’s changed. And we’re really working hard on all the candidates’ behalf. Really making a full court press to get the word out. And once people realize the issues and the differences between the parties, I think that’s going to be the difference and that will carry the day."
(Keck) But many political pundits say Republican candidates face an uphill battle, considering the Bush administration’s plunging approval ratings among Republicans and Democrats alike. Bradford Broyles, however, isn’t worried.
(Broyles) "George Bush is not a popular president and we realize that. But Vermonters are smart enough to realize that what’s important in their back yard is vastly different from what’s going on in the national scene. We’ve got people voting for local Republicans who may be voting for Barack Obama."
(Keck) While excitement over the presidential race may trickle down to local campaigns, Republican State Senator Kevin Mullin says strident partisanship usually doesn’t.
(Mullin) "It seems silly to think that creating good paying jobs in Vermont is an issue for either party. It’s an issue for everybody."
(Keck) How best to create jobs and fix the economy will be left to the winners of next Tuesday’s election. Pittsford resident Emily Balivet looks forward to voting. But she admits she’s also looking forward to next Wednesday, when all the campaigning will be over.
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.