VPR | January 4, 2016 | Report by Taylor Dobbs
Vermonters across the political spectrum are planning ahead for a Thursday evening visit from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
No Republican presidential candidate has won Vermont since 1988, when George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis, but the Trump campaign's announcement of the campaign stop suggests Trump isn't taking Vermont's blue state status as a given.
Plus, Trump will have the chance to establish a foothold with the state's Republicans as he campaigns against a still-crowded field of contenders for the GOP nomination.
When the Trump campaign announced the event last week, many Vermonters took to social media to voice outrage at the Flynn Center and its executive director John Killacky for hosting Trump, who has drawn wide criticism on the campaign trail for racist and sexist remarks.
In an interview Monday, Killacky defended the decision.
"When the campaign contacted us," he said, "I felt it was important, as a publicly-funded institution that gets federal and state dollars, that we are open to all points of view."
Over the weekend, Vermonters were circulating online petitions to get the Flynn center to cancel the event, but Killacky says no number of signatures would have made him cancel - and it has nothing to do with his politics.
"It's irrelevant what I think of his inflammatory rhetoric and his hateful language," Killacky said of Trump. "It's about a candidate who's running for president being allowed a forum to speak to people in Vermont."
Some Vermonters are excited to hear from Trump.
Mary Gerdt, a Monkton resident, says Trump's message resonates with her more than other candidate's. She says she knows she's in the political minority, but she's been that way for most of her life - first as a kid in southern Illinois, then as a Vermonter.
"So I didn't feel like I could say, 'Well, I'm a Republican' or, 'I'm conservative.' I never felt like I could come out with that. To me it's sort of like being gay," she said, laughing. "Coming out as a Republican. I could never do that with my mother."
As far as supporting Trump, Gerdt's not just choosing from among Republicans - she says she's voted for Howard Dean and Bernie Sanders in the past.
As for Trump's controversial comments about women, Gerdt says those aren't important to her.
And she isn't as concerned about Trump's ideas on immigration as many liberals are.
"I think there should be a ban on all immigrants coming in," she said.
Gerdt plans to be in theater when Trump is speaking. Many people who disagree with his views will be across the street at a rally planned by the organizing group Rights & Democracy.
Rights & Democracy Executive Director James Haslam, however, isn't calling it an anti-Trump event.
"This is a love and unity rally," he said.
Haslam says the rally is designed to raise awareness and gather support for ideas counter to Trump's, and he thinks the Donald's visit could actually end up helping those causes more.
"It's an important time," he said. "The country is at a crossroads, and we're excited that we can move forward in a broader more unified way, and get past quite frankly the kind of division and hate that he has been promoting."
As for Gerdt, she says the opposition doesn't bother her.
"It is Vermont, so people like to speak their mind and that's a good thing," she said.
And on Trump, there's no shortage of opinions.