Crunch Time For Undecided Voters, As N.H. Primary Enters Home Stretch

Jan 13, 2016

Gary Funchion of Hudson talks with NHPR Morning Edition host Rick Ganley.
Credit NHPR/Michael Brindley

When a candidate comes to your town, there’s always a huddle of reporters with microphones and cameras. 

And we hear a lot from those candidates and their supporters at an event. 

But as we get closer to our First in the Nation Primary, here on Morning Edition we’re going to be those reporters with mics, talking with people at a town hall or a diner visit.  But you’re also going to hear us in the communities hosting the candidates, to find out what’s on voters’ minds. 

We start in Nashua at a town hall meeting for Marco Rubio at Nashua Community College.

The Florida Senator is minutes away from taking the stage.

The event is being held in the college’s automotive repair shop. There’s a row of cars with their hoods up just a few feet away from where voters are packed into rows of seats.

That’s where I find Brenda Phelan of Plymouth, who’s been making the rounds.

“We’ve seen John Kasich and Chris Christie. This is unique to have so many candidates in the state right now. I love it."

She and her husband typically vote Democrat, but are leaning Republican this time; she’s eager to hear what Rubio has to say, particularly on the issue of Social Security.

"So we’re in the investigatory process here; undecided. It will be awhile, but we can’t wait much longer, can we?”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio speaks at a town hall meeting at Nashua Community College.
Credit NHPR/Michael Brindley

Less a month away, the days are waning for New Hampshire voters to decide who they’re going to support in the February 9 primary.

But outside these political events, and even with the clock winding down, the primary is still not the most pressing thing on the minds of many voters.  

“Have you been paying attention to the primary?” 

“Somewhat," says Gary Funchion of Hudson. He's been a machinist for 37 years, but isn’t working now due to a medical issue.

"When you say somewhat, in what ways?”

“I watch as much of it as I can stomach," he replies, as he grabs a coffee at JajaBelle’s pastry and coffee shop in downtown Nashua.

He describes himself as a centrist Republican, but:

"As for the election, it's kind of bread and circus to me. There are issues I'd love to hear them talk about," he said. "You didn't hear anything about the mentally ill until Obama was speaking about guns, and it came up as an 'oh, by the way, we're going to do this.' There's an issue right there, isn't there? The current issues that they're toting don't excite me at all."

He’s not alone, says Jessica DePontbriand, the owner here at JajaBelle’s.

She hasn’t heard much chatter at all about the primary among her customers.

“It really is not something that people are excited about. I think a lot of people are undecided on who they’re going to vote for. I think even party-wise, I think they’re disgusted within their own parties.”

DePontbriand says she’s mostly concerned about the economy and national security.

But with running a business and working 15-hour days, she’s remains undecided because she hasn’t had time to examine the candidates’ records.

“I’ve honed in on a few but I really want to sit and actually learn a little bit more before I make that final decision on Feb. 9. I’ve been watching the debates. I’ve been listening. I really just want to compare apples and oranges with the very small things I do care about.”

Jessica DePontbriand is owner of JajaBelle's in Nashua. She has a page from the Nashua Telegraph that has the pictures of names of all the presidential candidates on her kitchen fridge.
Credit NHPR/Michael Brindley

While there’s a steady stream of campaign workers and volunteers here at the café, DePontbriand says no candidates have shown up yet. But if one does come through the door, she’s ready.

“I have a picture of all the candidates because my mother’s biggest fear is they’re going to walk into my shop and we’re not going to know who they are. We do know who they are, but we have had this on our refrigerator for many months now. We have a cheat sheet, just in case.”

Back at the town hall meeting, Brenda Phelan listens intently as Marco Rubio responds to a question about Social Security, her top issue.

“Right now, according to current law, I am supposed to retire at 67. If we want to save Social Security and Medicare, I might have to retire at 68. That’s not unreasonable.”

Afterward, Phelan says Rubio’s the candidate she’s been waiting for.

“I am very impressed. I really am overwhelmed I think with his energy and his enthusiasm.”

One mind made up, many more to go.