Rhode Island and Vermont: Secondary Primaries? You've probably heard that Ohio and Texas hold their presidential nominating contests a week from today. Much less attention has been paid to two other states that will also be voting on March 4: Vermont and Rhode Island. Melissa Block talks with Candace Page of the Burlington Free Press and Scott Mackay of The Providence Journal.
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Rhode Island and Vermont: Secondary Primaries?

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Rhode Island and Vermont: Secondary Primaries?

Rhode Island and Vermont: Secondary Primaries?

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We've been hearing a lot about the two big delegate-rich states that vote on Tuesday - Texas and Ohio - but there are two tiny states voting that day that have been largely ignored. So now, we turn our attention to Vermont and Rhode Island.

We're joined by two reporters - in Vermont, Candace Page with the Burlington Free Press, and in Rhode Island, Scott MacKay with the Providence Journal. Welcome to you both.

Ms. CANDACE PAGE (Reporter, Burlington Free Press): Good to be here, Melissa.

Mr. SCOTT MacKAY (Reporter, Providence Journal): Nice to be here, Melissa.

BLOCK: And Candace, let's start with you there in Vermont. How does the Democratic race look from where you are in Burlington?

Ms. PAGE: It's Obama all the way; has been almost since before there was a primary race. The latest polls show Obama with about 60 percent of the Democratic vote and Hillary Clinton with about 35 percent.

BLOCK: And he has outraced her by, what, about 10-to-1?

Ms. PAGE: That's right. He's raised half a million dollars in Vermont. This is unheard of for a presidential candidate at this point anyway in the election cycle. And she has raised about 50.

BLOCK: I want to turn to Scott MacKay in Rhode Island now. And Scott, Candace is describing a very Obama-friendly climate in Vermont. It sounds like things are more favorable for Hillary Clinton where you are.

Mr. MacKAY: Yes, they are. What you have is I'd call passion versus tradition. The Clintons are very well liked and very much revered in this state. They came here and raise money over the years for a lot of local Democratic candidates, and they have a lot of friends here.

The interesting thing is, however, while Clinton has raised over $700,000 in the state, it's been very top down money. It's been from wealthy folks and big Democratic Party insiders who've maxed out. Some of these people almost have their dogs maxed out. With Obama, though, he has so much money now from the small donors that he's harvested off the Internet, more than 3,000 in Rhode Island alone. There's an awful lot of passion surrounding him. And also, there's so much money around that they're outspending the Clinton campaign better than three-to-one on local television.

They've been doing Spanish radio ads, and they really have a very, very good ground game.

BLOCK: Have both of you sort of gotten used to being states that are overlooked in presidential races, where Vermont and Rhode Island don't matter? And does it seem any different this year since March 4th is going to be such a big day?

Ms. PAGE: Well, I do think that there's more excitement among voters here. I don't know that that is because they think that Vermont's 23 delegates are going to make a big difference. But the excitement over Obama and the commitment, I think, of the Hillary Clinton people who have loyalty to her means that this year, town meeting day turnout may be driven more by people who want to vote in the presidential primary as opposed to people who want to go and argue about the local school budget.

BLOCK: And Scott MacKay in Rhode Island, what about there?

Mr. MacKAY: You know, we've had a lot of people paying attention to Rhode Island, which never was - happened in the past. One of the reasons is we were so late in the process that the race was effectively over, so no one cared about the March primaries. That's different this year. We never have seen advertising on television in Rhode Island for presidential candidates, for instance. And now, you can't turn on the news or a basketball game without seeing either Obama or Senator Clinton telling you what their great, great plans are.

BLOCK: And if the messages in Ohio and Texas have all been about jobs and trade and the economy, what messages do you think voters care about where you are?

Ms. PAGE: Oh, in Vermont, it's absolutely the Iraq war. And in fact, I think that's one explanation of the enthusiasm for Obama. This is a state where the distinction between Hillary Clinton and Obama on the war. He can always preach that he was against the war from the beginning - does make a difference.

BLOCK: And Scott MacKay in Rhode Island?

Mr. MacKAY: Very interesting, the economy has vaulted in recent weeks ahead of the war. I think that's just driven by foreclosures, the recession and some headlines. But the war is still, with a lot of liberals in the state in particular - the war still sticks in the craw of people. And they just, you know, they just shake their heads when somebody like McCain says we'll be there for 100 years.

BLOCK: When you're going about your lives in Vermont and Rhode Island, are you hearing people outside of the newspaper, hearing a lot of people talking about the race coming up, about the election on Tuesday? And is there a lot of excitement about it, Candace Page?

Ms. PAGE: I would say more than any time in my life since George McGovern. Everybody is talking about this race, and that, I think, includes Republicans. Of course, we haven't talked about Republicans. John McCain is of course expected to win handily, but Congressman Ron Paul and Governor Mike Huckabee are both on the ballot as our candidates who've dropped out, including Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.

Mr. MacKAY: I would agree. Exactly the same thing in Rhode Island. McCain came here the same day that he went to Vermont and did a big rally in Warwick. And also, Mike Huckabee was here last night, and he had about 500 people, playing his bass guitar, which he loves to get up on stage and do so.

Now, if you go to restaurants after church, at fellowship, you know, coffee hour, if you walk down the street, people in these two states are going to take it more seriously merely because there's a contest, and it's not over.

BLOCK: Well, Scott MacKay and Candace Page, thanks to you both for talking with us.

Mr. MacKAY: Thank you.

Ms. PAGE: Thank you.

BLOCK: Scott MacKay, political reporter with the Providence Journal, and Candace Page, senior reporter with the Burlington Free Press.

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