Picking a President: N.H. Voters Narrow Their Options As Primary Clock Winds Down

Feb 2, 2016

New Hampshire voters have had plenty of time to make up their mind in this year's presidential primary.
Credit Allegra Boverman / NHPR

New Hampshire voters head to the polls next week with plenty to think about. And many of them have been thinking, comparing, contrasting, deciding, and un-deciding on candidates for a while now. NHPR has been following up with a handful of voters through the campaign to hear how their final decisions have been shaped by a long primary season. Today we hear from three of them.

Ken Foote lives in Bedford and works for his family business selling helicopter engine parts. He’s a registered independent and in early September, he walked down the street to his neighbor’s house to hear John Kasich speak. But afterwards, as I asked Foote what he thought of Kasich, the conversation drifted toward another candidate: Donald Trump.

Foote said he liked the effect Trump was having on the rest of the GOP field.

"I think everyone has to kinda change their game," Foote said. "He’s a little bit too boisterous for me but everyone else is the same kind of speech the same kind of talk and after a while, it’s stale.”

So, Trump may have been too boisterous for Foote back in September. But when we spoke again earlier this month, Foote had come around to the idea of a rowdy commander-in-chief.

“Make America great – what’s not to like about that?”

Foote says it all goes back to how he was feeling in September. The other candidates, or ‘old politicians’ as Foote put it, are just stale.

“I think he’s refreshing because you’re not guessing," Foote said. "There’s nobody sitting and going, 'Gee, I wonder what Trump is going to say about this issue.' They’re saying, 'I hope he doesn’t use a bad word or grab somebody or something.' That’s what’s so funny about him. It’s entertaining. Imagine that, politics that’s entertaining. And maybe a little hurtful, but you know you gotta have a thick skin to be a politician.”

Amanda Sobel is another voter shopping in the Republican primary who has changed her mind. Sobel is a grad student at UNH and back in September, she was gravitating towards Ben Carson.

“I appreciate him being a doctor as I’m in the sciences, and I think what he has to say is actually inspiring," Sobel said.

But by November, Sobel had begun to cool on Carson after he made a few statements that as Sobel put it were under-thought. By the time we spoke again earlier this month, Sobel had decided that she won’t be voting for Carson. Lately, she says she’s been considering Ted Cruz.

“I mean his performance at the debates was great -- which is to be expected, I think, since he was a master-debater at Harvard," Sobel said of Cruz. "Also his position on defunding Planned Parenthood. He set out a mission and he followed it through. And a lot of candidates don’t do that.”

Still, Sobel isn’t ready to make her final decision. To do that, she says, she’ll need to do more studying.  

“I’m really overwhelmed, I have to say. I mean I know who I’m definitely not going to vote for and that’s great but it’s tough," she said.

For our last voter, Joe Magruder of Concord, the choice has been clearer. Magruder is a former editor for the Associated Press in New Hampshire and for him the issue of campaign finance reform is most important.

Back in September, he had a clear champion for that issue in Larry Lessig, who ran a short-lived and obscure campaign for the Democratic nomination. After Lessig dropped out of the race, Magruder began to lean toward Bernie Sanders.

“Because he is more forceful in saying the system is broken," Magruder said. "And he’s saying we need a revolution. I don’t know that revolution is what we need but we need a mass movement.”

Magruder has also developed a practical streak over the course of the campaign. Primary race aside, he’d support Hillary Clinton in the general election, even though she is the beneficiary of super PACs and large-donors.

“That doesn’t bother me," Magruder said. "Because that’s the way the game is played now and so I give everybody a free pass to come back to the right side of that argument and say, 'Yeah, I need that money now but here’s what I’m going to do to end this system'.”

Whether it’s been by focusing on a particular issue, listening for the right style, or just waiting to see that spark, voters have been approaching their decision in a number of ways. But no matter how they come at it – they all have to finish by next Tuesday.