The Forgotten Primaries The upcoming presidential primaries in Texas and Ohio have gotten a lot of attention, but Vermont and Rhode Island also hold contests on March 4.
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The Forgotten Primaries

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The Forgotten Primaries

The Forgotten Primaries

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This is DAY TO DAY. From NPR News, I'm Madeleine Brand.

This is the first week without a presidential contest so far this year, and that's just putting more focus on next Tuesday, especially for the Democrats. Texas and Ohio have the most delegates at stake, more than 300. But there are two other states in play that day: Rhode Island and Vermont. John Dillon reports from Vermont Public Radio.

JOHN DILLON: The Wayside Diner is on a busy street that connects the state capital of Montpelier and the nearby city of Barre. There's a car parts store and tractor dealership nearby. There's also a long network of snowmobile trailers just back from the road. That's where Chad Flurry(ph) was headed after lunch. He's a little disappointed by the freezing rain that recently coated the trails with ice.

Mr. CHAD FLURRY (Voter): It's nice and flat, it's a comfortable ride, it's just you have to be safe and cautious in the ice.

DILLON: Flurry is following the political conditions on the campaign trail as well. Vermont's primary is usually less than a footnote. In years passed it's been held long after the nominating contest was decided. This year, with the vote on the Democratic side close, Vermont voters and the state's 23 delegates could play a role.

There's no party registration in Vermont. So all of the candidates, both Democrats and Republicans are seeking Independents like Flurry.

Mr. FLURRY: Right now, on the edge, I think Obama would be my first choice.

DILLON: He says he likes Republican John McCain but prefers Democrat Barack Obama's position on Iraq.

Mr. FLURRY: You know, get our soldiers back from war and start focusing on homeland security and safety of our own country.

DILLON: But Rita Seer(ph), who's waiting for her husband to park his car, has a different perspective. She declines to give her age, but she's voted in many elections and says she's waited a long time to see a woman president.

Ms. RITA SEER (Voter): Being a woman, you know, I thought maybe I'd give Hillary a vote.

DILLON: Vermont is a state with a strong independent and liberal streak. It's elected Independent Bernie Sanders to the U.S. Senate after eight terms in the House. And the state senate last year passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush. But Republican Jim Douglas has remained in control of the governor's office for six years. He supports McCain who beat George Bush here in the 2000 primary.

Eric Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College. He says McCain is a solid bet this year as well. On the Democratic side, David says Obama has strong support among Vermont liberals.

Professor ERIC DAVIS (Political Science, Middlebury College): And with McCain having all but clinched the Republican nomination, I would expect that most of the independents in Vermont will choose to vote in the competitive Democratic primary.

DILLON: Davis says Clinton's vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq will hurt her here. Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita in the war than any other state. And Davis says, this state has fewer low income blue collar voters who have turned out strongly in other states for Hillary Clinton.

Prof. DAVIS: Those groups make up a relatively smaller percentage of the voters in Vermont than they do in some other states like Ohio that have more of a manufacturing job base.

DILLON: Obama has raised far more money than Clinton in Vermont and has seven paid campaign staff here. Clinton has matched the staff but has fewer offices. With both campaigns running TV ads, Davis says it'll be the most expensive primary in state history. But so far neither candidate has scheduled a visit. Billi Gosh hopes that will change. She's a superdelegate and a Clinton supporter.

Gosh said she got a surprise phone call from Clinton the other night.

Ms. BILLI GOSH (Superdelegate): She asked if there was anything that I needed. And I said, yes, we really would love to have you with the president come to Vermont. And she said, I think that can be done. So we will see.

DILLON: But if Bill Clinton comes to campaign for his wife, he'll have to deal with a celebrity endorsement on the other side. Ben & Jerry, the famous ice cream pair, are stumping the state for Obama.

For NPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier, Vermont.

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