(Host) Passions for and against President Bush are pushing up voter registration in many parts of the country. But will a voter’s opinion of the Bush administration affect their choices in state and local elections?
In our series on the race for governor, VPR’s Nina Keck examines what role, if any, the presidential election plays in Vermont politics.
(Keck) In Vermont, it’s not unusual to see a political sign for a Republican president on the same grassy lawn as a sign for a Democratic governor. Vermonters do that – they mix up their political parties without blinking an eye.
But Democratic gubernatorial challenger Peter Clavelle says this time it’s different. He says anger over the war in Iraq will be much more evident in the voting booth and will help him defeat Republican incumbent Jim Douglas.
(Clavelle) “We’ve seen a thousand citizens of this country lose their life, including a disproportionate share of Vermonters. We’re seeing hundreds of billions of dollars being diverted from the domestic needs for this unnecessary war. And now we’re hearing discussion of more National Guard men and women who are being called up. This war has very direct and personal implications on the people of the state of Vermont.”
(Keck) Clavelle has spent thousands of dollars on television ads that show a smiling Governor Douglas arm in arm with Vice President Dick Cheney. And Clavelle likes to remind Vermonters that Douglas heads the president’s re-election efforts in the state.
(Sound from Clavelle ad)
“Aren’t we lucky to have George W. Bush in the White House? Say What? Aren’t we lucky to have George W. Bush in the White House?”
(Keck) But is the message sinking in? To find out, I questioned a very unscientific sample of voters along Merchant’s Row in Rutland. Gary Meitrott of Middletown Springs was sipping coffee at a popular downtown cafe.
(Meitrott) “I am so against the current administration with Bush and yet, with Clavelle my answer is no. It has nothing to do with that helping.”
(Keck) “So when you go into the voting booth to select a governor, there won’t be any little voice shouting out your feelings about Bush?”
(Meitrott) “No, not for me. This is where discernment comes in. To try and plug everyone into a certain peg is not taking the full person into account. You have to do that.”
(Keck) Across the street at Take-Out Billy’s restaurant, owner Bill Davis leaned on the counter and talked about what his customers had been saying. A blue Kerry-Edwards sticker is on the refrigerator behind him. Davis is a Democrat who says he’s disgusted with President Bush but he says that’s not enough to get him to vote for Peter Clavelle.
(Davis) “No, I’m seeing dyed in the wool Democrats who are not happy with Clavelle. And they are facing an issue because they want to vote Democrat. I personally am one case where as much as I want to stay with my party, I will probably vote for Douglas.”
(Keck) Patty, a Rutland resident who asked that her last name not be used, supports the president. But she says her views on George Bush have no bearing when it comes to the governor’s race.
(Patty) “If somebody says something that I like that is a Democrat or a Republican, I am going to vote that way.”
(Keck) Of the 10 people interviewed for this story, only one said that her anger over President Bush’s policies would affect her choice for governor. But she didn’t feel comfortable enough to give her name or allow me to record her.
Douglas, for his part, says a governor should focus on what he or she can do. Directing U.S. foreign policy, he says, isn’t part of the job. As to the Bush factor? Jim Douglas isn’t worried.
(Douglas) “Last year they elected Bernie Sanders and me. In 1980 they voted for Ronald Reagan and Pat Leahy. Vermonters jump around. They are fiercely independent and they’re not going to be persuaded by an attempt to assign guilt by association.”
(Keck) And while he admits the president will likely trail John Kerry in Vermont, Governor Douglas is much more confident about his own chances.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck.