Fox News took plenty of criticism for how it chose the ten candidates for Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate. But for actual voters faced with paring the list down to just one candidate, the challenge is perhaps even more daunting.
In New Hampshire, where voters pride themselves on meeting candidates multiple times before making a decision, the sheer size of this cycle’s GOP field is putting that devotion to civic participation to the test. Or as Donna Beatrice of Nashua puts it:
“It’s confusing. There’s so many. We’re trying to see as many as we can so at least if we see them in person, and we hear regular people ask questions, we could maybe piece it all together. But it’s overwhelming, it really is.”
It’s hard to blame Beatrice for feeling this way. The Republican primary field this year is the largest in modern history. And if you haven’t been following, say, the debate over the Export-Import Bank in your free time, navigating the nuances of 17 candidates can be a huge undertaking. Still, voters are doing their best. Dan Walulik works at a tech firm in Manchester where Ohio Governor John Kasich made a recent visit. While he says it’s still too early to cross anyone off the list, Walulik did offer an approach to evaluating the candidates.
“Everybody can say a lot of different things, and in my mind talk is cheap," Walulik said. "I look at what their actual records have been, and I think that’s how you have to choose on a candidate. They can say whatever they want; you gotta look at what their actual history is and what they’ve done in the past.”
But even judging candidates by their political records can only get you so far. Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump all campaign on the fact they are political outsiders, without lengthy voting records. And among the political veterans now running, several, including Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, have been out of office for years. For Walulik though, there is one resume item in particular that helps narrow his candidate options:
“Most of the governors that are in the race all have some level of success in their respective states. So you know, that success, being a governor and managing budgets, is appealing to me.”
Cynthia Woullet of Penacook worked on the Democratic side in 2008 for John Edwards. But she says her distrust of Hillary Clinton is so strong, that she is taking the unusual step of considering a Republican candidate this time around. Her first foray into the GOP field was to see New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Manchester this week. She liked Christie's tone but wanted to hear how other candidates sound, too.
“Governor Christie is assertive; he’s not abrasive the way some of the other candidates come across to me," Woullet said. "Right now, he’s the one I like the best. But, you know, if I had a chance to go to a rally for another political candidate, Republican or Democrat, I probably would go.”
For political junkies, the theater alone is enough to stay interested. Robert Jursik has already made plans to work on Marco Rubio’s campaign, but he came out to see Lindsey Graham in Littleton last week just for the thrill of it.
“He’s got some of the most entertaining town halls of anybody that’s running right now so I knew whether I agreed with him or not it was going to be fun. You know, I’m more than happy to attend all the events with all the other candidates and just hear what all of them have to say because I’m interested.”
For voters struggling to make up their minds, there’s yet another complication this year. Spending from outside interest groups is set to break records this election cycle. That means the crowded field could stay crowded for longer than usual, as outside money props up candidates who might otherwise go broke well before Primary Day. But that doesn’t discourage voters like Tommy Hall, whose visit to a town hall event with Lindsey Graham marked her eleventh candidate this year.
“We still have five more to go," said Hall. "I made it a goal this time –we’ve tried to see candidates before– but I’ve made it a goal to try and see everyone.”
Fortunately for Hall and the others, this political homework assignment comes with a due date – Primary Day is scheduled for early February, leaving plenty of time for voters to keep studying.