With A Month To Go, N.H. Voters Explain How They're Making Their Primary Picks
On a rainy, grey Saturday in January, hundreds filled the gym at Stevens High School in Claremont to see one of the leading Democratic candidates, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
As volunteers handed out signs for people to wave and music blared, I walked around, looking for voters to talk with.
Even when they attend events like this, many voters in New Hampshire still aren’t sure who they’ll be voting for in the primary, so I wanted to know, how are people making that decision?
To make sure we weren't distracted by the candidates themselves, I didn’t ask for any candidate names. I just wanted to know, what goes into this decision making process?
Joshua Lambert, from Claremont, said he already has a top candidate, and he likes him enough that he now sports a pink hat with the candidate’s name.
“He’s young, he’s got a lot of energy and he’s great at speaking,” Lambert says, “great at bringing people in, having solid plans behind his words.”
Lambert calls himself “super-progressive,” but says “now that things have become more polarized, we need someone who’s a little less extreme to bridge that divide.”
It’s a sentiment I hear at another event in Claremont at the Common Man Inn on New Year’s Eve.
In the very back row sits Dianne Rochford, a retired teacher from Newport, wearing a rainbow scarf and purple coat. She's listening to another candidate who’s pitched herself as someone with experience bringing voters together, including those in Republican districts.
Rochford herself is undecided. She also says she’s “a progressive liberal.”
“In my heart, that’s what I really believe. But I also realize it’s wise to get things done and move relatively successfully in the direction you want to go,” she says.
Of the big ideas some candidates are putting forward, she says, “you can’t keep track of how it would ever come true. That, I’ve had to discount.”
Denise and Pete Mitchell, a couple from Newbury, sit next to Rochford in the back row.
Denise says she’s an old pro at the first-in-the-nation primary. She was born and raised in the Granite State; she’s volunteered and canvassed for candidates; she brought her kids to candidate events.
She says she votes for who she believes in, but “most people I’ve voted for haven’t won in the primary.”
There are a few questions she asks herself as she’s deciding which candidate to support:
“Are you smart enough? Do you have your heart in the right place? Have you lived a life that actually exposed you to things that the average person or, you know, other people have?"
“I think we all look for people who are like us in some way,” she says.
Her husband Pete says he doesn’t have a favorite candidate at the moment, but he does want someone with a sense of decency, someone who can speak intelligently - perhaps with some “je nes sais quois.” And...can that person win in the Midwest?
“I feel like the most electable right now, without naming names,” says Pete, “are older white guys.”
But he says he’s looking more closely at women candidates this year. That's something his wife, Denise, is taking a hard stance on this election cycle.
“I'm just not voting for any white male unless he is like the most amazing candidate ever. I've just been so tainted by the status quo,” Denise says.
Denise, who works in tech, says a lot of her colleagues are foreign nationals and “brilliant women.” But “the higher up you go in the ranks, the whiter and [more] male it gets. It's just it's just so old. For me, I'm just so tired of it.”
On another day, thirty minutes north at the Hanover Inn, more than 600 people have crowded in to hear another candidate currently leading in the polls.
I approach a tall woman wearing all black - she’s paying close attention to what the candidate is saying, even though she’s had to stand outside of the ballroom since there’s no more room inside.
“I try to ask myself if the election is today, who would I vote for? And just see how that changes based on my experiences of even that day,” says Victoria Dalrymple, who’s lived in Hanover for the past two years.
(She is the most calculated voter I’ve met so far, mainly because she says asks herself this question every day, and keeps track of her responses.)
Dalyrmple says she’s trying to find continuity in her choice “rather than an emotional or reaction to one event or one statement or one issue.”
As the Hanover event hits phase two - the selfie line - I spot four young adults waiting and chatting.
Daphnie Friedman and Madeleine Wallace will both be voting in the New Hampshire primary.
For them, climate change is a top issue.
“If you can’t produce a plan, or a plan to make a plan, and are just spewing a bunch of rhetoric, I will knock you off my list,” says Friedman.
But, the 19 year old is still trying to figure out who to vote for.
“It changes on the daily,” she says. “Every time I talk with a new person and they enlighten me on their views of whatever presidential candidate they’re looking at, I think my opinion changes a little too much based on that.”
Wallace, on the other hand, does have a frontrunner in mind - this candidate, she says, is strong, logical and has good arguments in support of her plans.
“I’m not sure if there was a particular moment I decided,” Wallace starts to say. But she stops mid-sentence.
“Oh my god! There she is!”
Wallace and Friedman laugh nervously as the candidate walks by, her selfie crew in tow.
“I made eye contact with them, that was very helpful,” Wallace says, still smiling.
Some days, she says, she feels more hopeful about her choice than others.
“The biggest thing that makes it difficult to decide is whether to go for moderation or to go for everything,” she says. “I feel like we’ve swung so far in Trump’s direction that maybe the pendulum can swing and we can go all the way to the other side. But also, I’m not sure if I’m willing to take that risk.”
They’ll all have to decide soon. As Dianne Rochford from Newport puts it, “Our primary is in February. So, it’s coming down to the hour, you know?”