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Bush Has Reasons to Stiff Vermont
BRATTLEBORO — It's not that President Bush is ignoring Vermont, which twice gave him the fewest votes of any state. Heck, on Friday he declared part of it a disaster.
It's just that Bush hasn't been here since taking office, making the Land of Ben and Jerry the only state he has not visited as president.
And now — with a gubernatorial race featuring an incumbent Republican not eager to have his photo taken with Bush (not to mention a voter-approved resolution in Brattleboro calling for Bush's arrest) — smart money says he might not get here before depositing his final government paycheck in January.
Here's the candid assessment, no names please, offered as "the real story" by a GOP official in Vermont: "Why would he ever come here just to get a bunch of crowds to boo him? He would be nuts to come up here."
Exactly, says Ari Fleischer, Middlebury (Vermont) College class of '82 and former Bush spokesman, who categorizes Vermont as a beautiful but "essentially a socialist state."
"Not if he is wise," Fleischer said when asked if Bush should visit before leaving office. "It would make the protests in Europe look small. I don't see any good purpose other than to check the box to say he was in all 50 states."
Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, checked all the boxes, accomplishing the 50-state sweep with a Nebraska visit a month before leaving office. Some news organizations have reported that President George H.W. Bush made it to all 50 states while in office, but archivist R. Matthew Lee at the Bush Library said there are no records indicating it's true.
Records from the late President Reagan's foundation show he never made it to Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and Delaware while in office.
Why no Bush visit to Vermont? Let us count the reasons.
He lost Vermont by 10 points in 2000 and 20 points in 2004. In both years, Vermont gave Bush fewer votes than any other state. More than 30 Vermont cities have approved resolutions calling for his impeachment. In March, Brattleboro voters approved a resolution (unenforceable, town officials say) calling for Bush and Vice President Cheney to be arrested if they ever show up in town.
And, in what could be the most telling reason of all, Vermont Democrats seem more interested in a Bush visit than do Vermont Republicans.
"It would be good for him to stop by," Executive Director Kristina Althoff of the Vermont Democratic Party, insisting she is motivated by civic pride, not the potential political gain to be derived from photos of Bush with state GOP candidates.
But, Althoff added, "Obviously, President Bush's approval ratings in Vermont are very low."
Though noting that Bush is cordially invited, some Vermont Republicans are not scurrying to their mailboxes in search of the RSVP.
Mum's the word from Vermont GOP Chairman Rob Roper.
"He does not have a comment on the matter," said a spokesman.
Vermont 's GOP Gov. James Douglas takes an it-just-doesn't-matter approach.
"I expect that President Bush will visit here sometime before his term ends. He is certainly welcome," Douglas said, adding, "I think he understands he is not wildly popular in Vermont."
And would Douglas be wild about campaigning with a not-wildly-popular president?
"Vermonters don't care what outsiders think," he said, noting he has differed with Bush on environmental and health care issues.
Douglas' campaign Web site still links to a 2006 endorsement from The Herald of Randolph, which praised him thusly: "Jim Douglas is no George Bush."
The anti-Bush sentiment here is the culmination of a political metamorphosis in Vermont, the most Republican state in the 19th century and one of only two not to back Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Massive in-migration from New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere (a native Vermonter has not been elected governor here since 1968) has made it among the most socially liberal (legal civil unions of same-sex couples), environmentally active (billboards are illegal) and left-leaning (Vermont's Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., is the U.S. Senate's only socialist) of all the states.
It's against that backdrop that Vermont House Speaker Gaye Symington, Douglas' Democratic challenger, seeks to glue the GOP incumbent to Bush.
"With or without a picture of him with George Bush, it's clear that Gov. Douglas sees George Bush as someone that he looks up to as his leader," she said.
Symington campaign aide Michael Carrese said the electoral equation is simple.
"I don't think it helps Jim Douglas at all politically to have a picture standing next to the president," he said.
File that under understatement, says University of Vermont political scientist Garrison Nelson, who laughs when asked if Bush will show up.
"Why should he?" Nelson said. "He will be met with massive protests. No matter where he appears in Vermont he will face a massive protest."
And the damage to Douglas' re-election effort?
"It would sink it," Nelson said.
Meanwhile, back at the White House, there are nothing but maple-sugar sweet words about Vermont, combined with irrefutable logic.
"Well, one state always has to be the last one visited," said spokesman Tony Fratto. "Vermont is a great state and if the president goes I hope to go with him. But I don't have a schedule item to announce right now."