Vermont Democrats, buoyed by last November's reelection of US Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, quietly are eyeing bigger electoral victories in 1982. With GOP Gov. Richard A. Snelling not seeking reelection, Democrats' prospects for regaining the state's executive chair they lost five years ago may have brightened considerably. Much could depend on how bitter a political scramble develops within the Vermont GOP for the gubernatorial nomination.
Two Republicans have all but launched their candidacies, and two others may be in the wings. Among the latter is US Rep. James M. Jeffords, who like Mr. Snelling breezed to reelection last year. Although Mr. Jeffords has expressed interest in the governorship, he is not expected to make up his mind before midwinter. Were Jeffords to run for governor, Democratic interest in his US House seat would be considerably enlivened.
Thus far the two most likely contenders for the GOP gubernatorial nomination are William A. Gilbert, Governor Snelling's top administrative aide, and State Treasurer Emory Hebard. The other Republican who may go after Vermont's top office is Stewart Ledbetter, a former state banking and insurance commissioner.
The Democratic nominee is expected to be Lt. Gov. Madeleine Kunin. If elected , she would be the first woman head of state in Vermont history.
Mrs. Kunin, a Swiss-born former state legislator, whose current chief role is presiding over the Vermont Senate, seems likely to have clear sailing to the Democratic nomination.