NHPrimary.com: Voters: Happy with the process, choices
By Hattie Bernstein and Brad Leighton/The Telegraph of Nashua, New Hampshire
NASHUA, New Hampshire (The Telegraph of Nashua) -- Nashua voter Eric Desrochers did not have an easy time deciding whom to vote for in Tuesday's primary election.
But he was encouraged by the choices, heartened by the debate and happy to participate in a process that he said will make a difference in his life and the lives of his neighbors.
"I had a tough time making up my mind, but it was pretty clear to me walking in this morning,'' said the 34-year-old engineer, a registered Democrat who votes in Ward 3.
A little after 6 a.m. when he arrived at the Amherst Street School, Desrochers was wishing he had a cup of coffee in hand. But even without the artificial perk, he was ready to vote.
After weeks of listening to National Public Radio and days of fielding telephone calls from campaign workers, he had made his decision.
"It just came down to who I feel has more experience,'' he said, noting that key issues for him are the environment, transportation and pollution.
Across Greater Nashua, voters echoed Desrochers' enthusiasm and hopefulness. No matter their party affiliation or personal favorites, most voters said they felt encouraged by the choice of candidates. Rather than go with the lesser of two or more evils, voters said, they were voting for someone they believed in.
Several voters said they wanted to change parties for the primary but learned too late that they had missed the deadline for declaring such a change. At least two said they wished they had been able to change parties temporarily to support a candidate who would make their own party's choice more accountable.
James McClellan, 59, a residential property manager in Nashua, said he had only one criticism of the campaign: lack of accountability.
"What they should do is publish their voting record so we'd have not what they say but a true record,'' said the registered independent. "So you know the real person.''
He said issues he wanted to hear more about included health care, Social Security and education.
Making a choice was not difficult for McClellan, who said he is better off now than he was seven years ago and credits the current administration with his good fortune.
"I'm pretty satisfied with the direction they're going. I think (Al) Gore will stay with the direction,'' he said, referring to the Democratic vice president.
But McClellan's satisfaction with the primary process did not cancel out his desire for closure.
"I'm glad it's over,'' he said during an early morning interview at the Amherst Street School. "I'm just sick of hearing all this garbage on TV and that's exactly what it is garbage.''
Gordon Burnett, 39, a software engineer who lives in Nashua, said living in New Hampshire gave him a heightened appreciation for the process.
"I feel like you're demonstrating, putting the best foot forward in the whole process,'' he said during an exit interview at the Amherst Street School.
A registered Republican, Burnett said he was most concerned about the candidates' character.
Sallie Mercer, 36, a Nashua real estate agent, was hurrying into the polls early Tuesday morning, eager to cast her vote. A registered Republican, Mercer said she had trouble making up her mind about a candidate.
"I have to say, this time more than ever I received a lot more calls at home,'' she said. "In the last three weeks, I had at least three calls a day.''
She said at times the personal contact was "almost annoying,'' but in the long run she found it helpful.
Candidates didn't avoid issues, she said, although at times they brushed over them.
"I feel they pretty much covered everything,'' she said.
The parking lot outside the Mastricola Middle School in Merrimack was packed Tuesday morning minutes after the 7 a.m. opening of the polls there. Voters entered the school in a steady stream. Lines moved quickly.
"We're looking for a change. I know we're going to get it,'' said Judith Harman, 59, an independent who said she leans toward the Republicans.
Harman, a payroll supervisor, was wearing a red, white and blue silky scarf to celebrate election day. She said she watched the candidates on TV and spoke by telephone to campaign workers. She was most interested in two issues: taxes and education.
"We need a president that will help lower the debt and have (experience) dealing with foreign policy,'' she said. "Military experience is also good.''
Chip Underhill, 46, and his wife Lisa, 42, said they had little difficulty making a choice. They were looking for a candidate with integrity who also had no ties to President Clinton or the Democratic Party.
"I have strong disgust for the Democrats,'' said Lisa, noting that she resented having to explain the president's sexual peccadilloes to her children, 14, 11 and 6.
She said through reading and listening to news reports she had made her decision a tossup between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, although ultimately she went with McCain.
"I was impressed with what seems to be his integrity,'' she said.
Said her husband, Chip: "McCain seems to want the job. Everyone else seems to want the prize.''
Merrimack voter Joe Harris, 44, a pilot who is registered as an independent, attended three town meetings and watched the televised debates before deciding to vote for McCain.
He said he was impressed by McCain's character, experience and integrity.
"I could vote for Bush. I disagree on all the issues with Bill Bradley, but I think he's a decent person,'' he said.
Harris said he has not felt enthusiasm for a presidential candidate in years.
"I'm happy and lucky to be participating in this,'' Harris said. "It's an important part of the process.''
In Hudson, Gerri Moriarty, 37, a sales engineer with no declared party, said she had no trouble making up her mind after meeting three of the candidates, watching all of them on TV and reading.
"I was anxious to vote,'' she said upon exiting the polls. "I feel each vote in New Hampshire represents a lot of votes.''
Hudson Democrat Lynda Page, 44, a social worker, had been following three candidates: Gore, Bradley and McCain.
"I really felt with McCain and Bradley it wasn't just politics as usual,'' she said. "They say what they believe. They're taking a stand.''
In Hollis, Terry Phillips, 46, a psychotherapist who formerly lived in Texas, said Bush was an ineffective governor and that she found Gore "plastic.''
But "I felt like I had a selection of people that weren't the status quo,'' she said of the candidate lineup.
Phillips was critical of the primary process, saying she would prefer a national primary or perhaps three national primary days to give all Americans the chance to vote at the same time. "The process is real unfair,'' she said.
Taking a different tack was Hollis voter Patrick Moquin, 51, a semi-retired business executive and independent who said he was impressed with McCain after meeting him.
The personal meeting clinched his choice.
"It's far more intense than in the past,'' Moquin said of the primary races. "The quality of the candidates is superior.''
Still, the voter wanted to hear more about several issues, including Medicare, education and how to preserve his "own cash flow.'' He was also interested in campaign finance reform and said in general he favors substance and value over form.
Litchfield voter Vicki Pepper, 43, a community resource coordinator, wished she had been able to change parties for the primary. A registered Democrat, Pepper said she would have voted for McCain to push her party's candidate to offer more substance.
"There's not enough information. They're skirting it now,'' she said, noting that she expects more details after the parties choose their candidates.
Lyndeborough officials used the primary to unveil Citizens Hall after an all-volunteer restoration project and had a steady flow of people cast their ballots throughout the day. In the white wood-framed hall, there was friendly political bantering as voters cast their ballot with their hearts.
"It was a difficult decision, but I finally went with Bill Bradley," said 21-year-old Dan Gagnon, a registered independent. "Education was, for me, the deciding factor. My girlfriend is going to college and it would be nice if she could pay for it."
Carole Thompson, also a Lyndeborough independent, voted for Bush.
"I trust him," she said.
Thompson said she was concerned about two main issues.
"I'm against abortion, and I believe the country needs to be militarily ready," she said. "I believe he has addressed those extremely well."
Her husband, Francis, a Republican, said he voted for Bush because of his "good Christian values" and because "he's the only candidate to say Jesus Christ is the son of God and in him is the power and the glory.
"I also like Alan Keyes, but I think he just needs to smooth out a little."
Wilton had a heavy turnout all day with election officials saying a large number of people were registering to vote at the polls.
At the Milford Middle School and the Wilkins School in Amherst, the high voter turnout made finding a parking space a bit difficult at times, but the mood was positive.
Rayona Eaton, a Milford independent, said he had a hard time deciding between Bradley and McCain, but he finally decided to go with McCain.
"At first I was supporting Bradley, but the more and more I listened to John McCain, the more impressed I was," he said. "He isn't afraid to speak his mind even if it isn't politically popular. We need a man like that in the White House."
Charlie Sullivan, a 77-year-old Milford Republican, voted for Steve Forbes because of his proposal to privatize the Social Security system, replacing it with individual direct deposit accounts that will be held until a person retires.
"The government has been using Social Security to supplement the budget and that is wrong," Sullivan said. "I felt he was more tuned into that issue than the others, although I do think we had a lot good choices this year."