Momentum - that is what the Vermont primary is all about. For Gary Hart it is an opportunity to demonstrate that his victory over Walter Mondale in the Democratic primary in neighboring New Hampshire was not a fluke.
For Mr. Mondale, Vermont is an opportunity to regain some of his own campaign momentum as well as to slow that of the Hart campaign.
Though there are no delegates at stake in tomorrow's Vermont primary (delegates will be chosen at April caucuses), the election is seen as a potential strategic asset - a stepping stone on the road to the Democratic National Convention.
It is the only primary in the country on March 6 and it falls one week before the critical ''Super Tuesday,'' when 613 delegates from nine states, plus American Samoa and Democrats abroad, will be decided. Those 613 represent approximately one-third of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination for president.
Senator Hart is looking for a string of successes or strong showings this week in Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming to keep him in the national spotlight as a winner and propel him into a strong position on Super Tuesday.
Mondale is taking a long-term approach to the campaign, expecting it to stretch all the way until the July Democratic convention in San Francisco. His strategy is to use his chief asset - Democratic organization support - and focus his effort where delegates are at stake. As such, Mondale was not expected to make any other personal appearances in Vermont prior to tomorrow's vote.
Hart was scheduled to be in the state today.
Though Mondale has the backing of well-known Democrats such as Sen. Patrick Leahy and gubernatorial candidate Madeleine Kunin, as well as statewide support within the established Democratic organization, the Mondale camp faces a tough task in Vermont. It is working against a Hart campaign catalyzed by the victory in New Hampshire.
Since New Hampshire, the number of Hart campaign offices have increased from two to eight statewide. Many of them are staffed by young Hart workers flown in from Iowa and New Hampshire.
Richard Moe, Mondale's former chief of staff in the White House, who was flown in last week, complains that the Mondale campaign is being outspent in Vermont.
''Hart is going for quick momentum,'' Mr. Moe says.
He likens the current primaries to a race between a sprinter and a long-distance runner.
''We are pursuing a long-range race here. We are going where the delegates are. When the delegates are here, we will be back here,'' Moe says.