Politically Thinking: GOP hopefuls will bypass Vermont

Vermont’s 2012 presidential primary will be held on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 6. The Democratic primary will be uneventful, with President Obama running unopposed for renomination. The results of the Republican primary will determine how the state’s delegation to the Republican National Convention, which will be held in Tampa in late August, will be divided among the candidates.
Vermont is tied with Delaware as having the smallest delegation — 17 members — to the Republican convention. Convention delegates are awarded to the states on the basis of population, with bonus delegates given to states that voted for John McCain in 2008, have Republicans serving as U.S. Senators, U.S. House members, or governors, or have Republican majorities in one or both houses of the state legislature. Vermont qualifies for no Republican bonus delegates under any of these criteria.
The small size of Vermont’s delegation means that Republican presidential candidates will not pay much attention to the Vermont primary. More importantly, 10 other states will be holding primaries or caucuses on March 6, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. These states all have strong Republican parties and large delegations. Because candidates will be spending their time in the south and southwest in the weeks leading up to the Vermont primary, it is most unlikely that any Republican candidates will visit Vermont in this election cycle.
The Vermont primary ballot may include the names of candidates who are no longer actively seeking the nomination. The filing deadline for the Vermont primary is Jan. 9, the day before the New Hampshire primary. The ballot will go to press very soon thereafter, since early voting in Vermont will begin during the last week of January. Thus, candidates who will drop out of the race between mid-January and March 6 will still be listed on the ballot.
By the end of January, after primaries and caucuses will have been held in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida, the Republican field will probably have been narrowed to Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, with Ron Paul perhaps hanging on longer than Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.
A Gingrich-Romney Republican presidential primary in Vermont will be a low-turnout election. Neither of these candidates is likely to generate much enthusiasm among Vermont voters outside the Republican base.
The Mitt Romney who ran against Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate in 1994, or the Mitt Romney who ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, might have attracted considerable support in Vermont. That Mitt Romney supported abortion rights, believed government needed to do something about human-induced climate change, and saw an individual insurance mandate as one way of holding down increases in health care costs. The current Mitt Romney has disavowed all of those positions, and is more conservative than any of the Republicans who have won statewide elections in Vermont in recent years.
Romney might win the Vermont Republican primary by default, simply because Gingrich could be seen by many Republican voters as even less appealing than Romney. A few months ago, Romney’s campaign released a long list of legislators and other Republican luminaries in Vermont who are supporting the former Massachusetts governor. What was most noteworthy about the list was the absence of the names of the three Vermont Republicans who have been most successful at the ballot box in recent years. Jim Douglas, Brian Dubie and Phil Scott have not yet endorsed any Republican candidate seeking the presidency.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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