Island primary turnout expected to be high as competition stiffens
Based on the outpourings of support shown her during her frequent Island visits, Senator Hillary Clinton might be expected to be the odds-on favorite to take the Vineyard in Tuesday's presidential primary election.
That connection could provide prime fodder for the seemingly insatiable appetites of political pundits should Mrs. Clinton do poorly against her principal opponent, Senator Barack Obama, on the overwhelmingly Democratic Vineyard.
Town clerks in several Island towns told The Times that based on the level of interest in the primary election and requests for absentee ballots they expect a high voter turnout at the polls.
On Monday Tisbury town clerk Marion Mudge said that she would normally expect to receive back about 40 absentee ballots in years that featured a tight selectmen's race. She has received 83 so far.
Edgartown town clerk Wanda Williams said that judging from the number of absentee ballots the turnout would be heavy. "I think it will be a busy day," she said.
Ms. Williams said there has been a great deal of interest on the part of younger town residents and college students requesting absentee ballots.
The polls will open at 7 am and close at 8 pm across the Island and the state.
There are four primary ballots: Democratic, Republican, Green-Rainbow and Working Families. Voters registered as a member of a particular party may only vote in that party's primary. For example, Democrats may only vote in the Democratic primary.
Unenrolled voters, the majority of those registered, get to choose which ballot they will take.
The Democratic primary ballot reflects the attrition of the primary process. The eight listed candidates are: John R. Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Christopher J. Dodd, Mike Gavel, Barack Obama, Dennis J. Kucinich and Bill Richardson. Of those, six are no longer in the race.
The Republican ballot lists eight candidates: John McCain, Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rudy Giulani. Four of those candidates have dropped out of the race.
Among the six candidates on the Green-Rainbow ballot is familiar electoral underdog Ralph Nader. The Working Families ballot is blank.
There is ample reason to suspect Mrs. Clinton will do well on the Vineyard. She and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, raised the national profile of the Vineyard during Mr. Clinton's two terms in the White House with frequent summer vacations.
The Clintons have made good use of their many Island connections to boost their political coffers. Clinton visits often included a fundraiser at the home of one of their wealthy Island friends.
Last August a sell-out crowd of 2,200 paid $50 to sit inside the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs for a Hillary Clinton rally, while hundreds more watched and listened for free from the lawn.
The Vineyard largesse towards Democrats has not been lost on Barack Obama. In August Mr. Obama attended an invitation-only affair at the house of a friend. Guests paid $1,000 and sponsors paid $2,300.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama were not the only candidates to visit in August. Attracted by wealthy and politically active residents, as well as seasonal visitors, former senator John Edwards, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney also came looking for contributions to boost their presidential bids.
Based on a recent analysis of the political contributions of Island residents by The Times, Sen. Clinton won the Vineyard political money race among Democrats on the Vineyard, raising $75,980 from Island residents.
Sen. Obama reported he raised $62,865 from Vineyarders.
Mr. Romney attracted only $6,873 came from Vineyard residents. His main rival Sen. John McCain of Arizona raised $3,900 here, while former New York mayor Rudi Giuliani raised $2,300.
A look at party affiliations provides some background to the dollar amounts.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans on the Island by a total of 4,234 voters to 1,470 voters. However the majority of the Island's 12,067 registered voters, 6,276, are unenrolled.
The number of registered voters provides something of a litmus test for the Democratic frontrunners. Should Mr. Obama finish strong, or even beat Mrs. Clinton in a community considered a Clinton stronghold, it could presage a national trend for the Senator from New York.
This week The Times spoke with Islanders and a veteran State House legislator about the upcoming primary election.
First elected in 1989, Cape and Islands state representative Eric Turkington of Falmouth knows Vineyard voters well. He said if there is one place where Mrs. Clinton is known personally in Massachusetts it is on the Vineyard.
Asked to provide an assessment of where the voters might lean, Mr. Turkington said Island voting tends to be among the most liberal in the state. "Obama is the more liberal of the two so he is going to have a real good following because of that," he said.
Asked what it might mean in terms of the months ahead should Mr. Obama defeat Mrs. Clinton on the Vineyard, Mr. Turkington said, "She should worry."
Jim Powell of West Tisbury, a former Republican candidate for state representative who most recently ran for public office as an independent and the host of a local cable television public affairs show, said both Democratic candidates have demonstrated wide public appeal on their visits to the Vineyard.
Mr. Powell thinks Mrs. Clinton's experience, Island connections, and more moderate views as compared to Mr. Obama will propel her to victory on the Island.
"I bet that on Martha's Vineyard, Islanders will chose Senator Clinton," he said. Asked to play pundit and predict the margin of victory, Mr. Powell said, "I'd say by 15 points."
Mr. Powell, an unenrolled voter, said that despite a lack of specifics Senator Obama's message of change has been resonating with voters. At the same time, the insertion of race as an issue, something he lays at the doorstep of a national media corps anxious for ratings, has hurt Mrs. Clinton.
On the Republican side Mr. Powell thinks former Governor Mitt Romney has the inside track because the economy is the central national issue. "I think that the Islanders who are Republican or independent but looking for a Republican candidate to offset Clinton or Obama would chose Romney because of his expertise in fixing economic disasters," he said.
Who does Mr. Powell plan to support? After saying he does not usually tell people, he shared his choice with The Times, leaving open whether he would select a Democratic or Republican ballot. "I would definitely support Mitt Romney as being the most intelligent Republican choice," said Mr. Powell. "If I vote on the Democratic side I would vote for Hillary."
Rufus Peebles of West Tisbury, a psychologist and president of the Martha's Vineyard Democratic Council, said the Vineyard contest is absolutely of interest. Speaking personally and not in any official capacity, he said he supports Senator Obama and that he was very excited about Mr. Obama's showing in South Carolina and the endorsement of the Kennedy family.
Mr. Peebles said he could not predict whether Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama will take the Vineyard. "I hope Barack does," he said. "The Vineyard Democrats will unite behind Hillary if she gets the nomination, but when I look at Barack in relation to both Hillary and Senator Edwards I think he is incredibly intelligent, I think he is the most liberal of the group and I think he is inspiring in a way that John Kennedy was."
Mr. Peebles said he was a supporter of Bill Clinton when the former president was a candidate and while he was in office. He said should Mr. Obama have a strong Island showing the message would be that the Islanders would back the person they think would be the best president despite very warm feelings for the Clinton family on the Vineyard.
Mr. Peebles said that the people that either of the candidates would be able to attract to national service would have a huge influence on national affairs. "I just see him offering more in the kinds of people he would be able to attract because people listen to him and walk away feeling, wow."
Asked if he were to cross the aisle, something he said he does not contemplate, who he would vote for, Mr. Peebles said with a chuckle, "I would vote for Mitt Romney because I think he will be easier to defeat."