Area voters mirror state GOP trend
ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County and Brandon results for Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary essentially mirrored those from around Vermont: A plurality of voters backed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but the GOP frontrunner failed to win the outright majority his campaign had sought in state that neighbors his own.
In Addison County and Brandon, Romney led with about 37.2 percent of the vote, trailing his statewide number of 39.8 percent. Romney won Brandon and 16 of the county’s 23 towns.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum trailed Paul locally with 26.2 percent of the vote and earned a solid win in Vergennes. Santorum fared better in the area than he did statewide, where he earned 23.7 of the votes cast in the GOP primary.As was the case statewide, Texas Congressman Ron Paul ran second locally. Paul earned the most votes among the four Republican candidates in six towns — Hancock, Lincoln, Shoreham, Starksboro, Waltham and Weybridge — and earned about 26.3 percent of the GOP votes. Statewide, Paul earned 25.5 percent of those who voted in the Republican primary.
Former Speaker of the U.S. House New Gingrich trailed the field locally (8.8 percent) and statewide (8.2 percent).
If Romney had earned 50 percent of the statewide vote on Tuesday, he would have received all of 14 delegates at stake when GOP convenes in Tampa, Fla., in August. Instead, they will be divided proportionately among Romney, Paul and Santorum. A candidate needed to receive at least 20 percent of the vote to earn any delegates, meaning Gingrich is left out of the Vermont equation.
Reports of Romney campaign officials being upset with the results late this past Tuesday were due to the failure of their candidate to reach the 50 percent threshold.
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, said Romney campaign officials had higher expectations, but may have miscalculated the effect of Vermont’s open primary.
All voters, Republican, independent or Democratic, are allowed to choose either GOP or Democratic primary ballots. With no race on the Democratic side, Davis noted that exit polling showed 40 percent of voters in the GOP primary were independents and 10 percent were Democrats, and they did not break for Romney.
“I believe the Romney campaign thought the independents voting in the Republican primary would vote for their man,” Davis said in an email.
“If the Romney running for president this year had been the same Romney who was governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2006, he might well have received a lot of independent votes in Vermont and other states with open primaries. Once Romney began moving to the right in this year’s Republican primaries, his appeal to independent voters went down. National polls indicate that Romney’s disapproval ratings among independents have been rising since the beginning of this year.”
If Vermont’s primary had been restricted to Republican voters, Davis said Romney probably would have received all the delegates: Exit polling, he said, showed Romney won “51 percent of the vote of the self-identified Republicans, but only 31 percent of the vote of the self-identified independents. Ron Paul won the independent group with 38 percent of the vote.”
David noted Paul did well in small towns in Vermont, much like he did in the earlier New Hampshire primary and Maine caucuses. That trend was for the most part mirrored in Addison County, where only Starksboro among the towns Paul won is among the larger communities.
As well as Paul’s central libertarian message, Davis believes another issue played well for Paul in Vermont.
“Ron Paul was able to appeal to independents more than Romney,” Davis said. “Paul’s radio ads ended with the tag line, ‘Vote in the open Vermont primary for Ron Paul — the candidate for peace.’ Paul’s opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan policies of the Bush and Obama administrations got him some votes in Vermont, even from people who disagree with him on other issues.”
Santorum did not campaign in Vermont, but did play fairly well to his base, Davis said in an email.
“According to the exit poll, Rick Santorum did best among Vermont voters who consider themselves very conservative (19 percent of all primary voters) — Santorum won 34 percent of the vote in that group, one point ahead of Romney,” he said.
Davis said Santorum’s performance in Vergennes was understandable.
“The most conservative part of Addison County, based on general election votes, is the lakeshore from Panton down to Bridport,” he said. “I’m not surprised that Vergennes was one of Santorum’s strongest towns in Vermont.”
Davis doubts Democrats made a significant impact on the GOP results, unlike, for example, a number of years ago when Fred Tuttle upset Jack McMullen in a U.S. Senate primary.
“A few votes for Santorum were cast by Democrats who wanted to make mischief for the Republicans by stretching out the GOP nominating contest,” he said. “I have seen no evidence of any organized campaign by Democrats to urge their supporters to vote in this way, but that’s not to say that individuals who consider themselves Democrats might not have decided to vote for Santorum just to make things difficult for Romney and the Republicans. Some of Santorum’s 108 votes in Middlebury very likely fall into this category.”
Vermont’s primary was one of 10 on Tuesday, which ended with Romney winning six states and, according to the AP, holding 421 of the 1,144 delegates he will need to clinch the nomination in June.
Santorum, who won three states, is next with 181; Gingrich, who won his home state of Georgia on Tuesday, had 107. Paul has yet to win a state, but holds 47 delegates. The AP polled the so-called super delegates, who may vote for anyone they choose, for their preferences and included that data in the delegate counts.
The immediate future may give Santorum a lift despite Romney’s significant lead.
The Kansas caucuses, which experts said would probably favor Santorum, were held this past Saturday. On Tuesday, major primaries will be held in Southern states Alabama and Mississippi; Romney has not fared well in the South, and he referred to those contests last week as “away games.” Then on Saturday will come caucuses in Missouri, where Santorum defeated Romney earlier this year in a non-binding preferential vote.
The next state in which Romney is now favored is Illinois, which holds a primary on March 20.
Davis said despite the Romney campaign’s frustration last week, Vermont is not a major part of that bigger picture.
“Whoever ends up as the Republican nominee in November, Obama will win big in Vermont,” Davis said. “If it’s Obama vs. Romney, I would expect Obama would get anywhere between 57 and 62 percent of the statewide vote. If it’s Obama vs. Santorum or Gingrich, Obama’s vote share in Vermont would be closer to 70 percent.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.