MONTPELIER — Polls opened around Vermont Tuesday morning — and were to remain open until 7 p.m. — for voting in a presidential primary that was up for grabs, along with municipal elections. Super Tuesday coincides with the state’s annual Town Meeting Day holiday, when Vermonters traditionally gather in town halls and school auditoriums to debate and vote on municipal and school budgets and elect local leaders.
Vermont Republicans say even a small number of delegates like the 14 up for grabs in the state’s Republican presidential primary could make a difference in a nominating contest that is still volatile.
Vermont will send 17 delegates to this year’s Republican convention. Three of the slots are taken by the state party chairman and two national committee members, who have endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“With a competitive primary like this has been, every delegate counts,” said Darcie Johnston, a volunteer on Romney’s campaign. “Vermont’s 14 delegates are just as important as Arizona’s or Ohio’s or any other state, to reach the number of delegates needed to be the nominee.”
But even as people prepared to vote Tuesday there was indecision among potential Republican primary voters.
“I still have second thoughts about any and all candidates that are involved,” said Lisa Marinelli, of Montpelier. “I will vote, Republican if I do, but I’m not sure I’m going to vote in the primary this time. I’m not satisfied with any four of those candidates,” she said.
“I’m looking for a lot more. Maybe if we could bind them all together and come up with something that would be my candidate, but right now I’m still undecided.”
But support for President Barack Obama, unopposed on Vermont’s Democratic primary ballot, was strong.
“I will continue to vote for him because I think he’s doing a good job even though the Republicans are preventing him from doing what they want,” said David Murtagh, 71, who is retired. “If the Republicans have an idea that will help us and Obama says, `Oh, that’s good, let’s go with it,’ the Republicans immediately will shoot it down. So until they can start acting like humans that are working for us, I can’t go Republican, on any level I can’t go because they’re all tied in with that tea party.”
Vermont is the smallest of 10 states holding primaries or caucuses on Tuesday. That’s why it has drawn no visits in the run-up to the primary from Romney or his rivals, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich or U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Under state party rules, the 14 delegates at stake on Tuesday will be distributed proportionally to the candidates unless one of them gets a majority, in which case the winner gets all 14.
Poll results released last week by the Castleton Polling Institute at Castleton State College indicated Romney was the closest to the 50 percent threshold, but had some ground to gain if he hoped to make it.
Romney had support from 34 percent of likely Republican primary voters; Santorum had 27 percent; Paul had 14 percent and Newt Gingrich had 10 percent. Pollsters interviewed 800 randomly selected Vermont residents by phone from Feb. 11 to Feb. 22.
The sample size carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. But just 231 respondents called themselves likely Republican primary voters, increasing the margin of error to plus or minus 6.5 percentage points.
There appeared to be less excitement on the Democratic side, with President Barack Obama the only candidate listed on that party’s primary ballot.
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