Granite Staters See Hard Choice
The Monitor talks again with New Hampshire voters who were interviewed before the state's presidential primary
CONCORD, N.H. — IT all started eight months ago in the snow and icy winds of the Granite State. In the first presidential primary of the 1992 race to the White House, New Hampshire voters listened while an angry Patrick Buchanan took aim at President Bush. They also watched 10 Democrats maul one another over such issues as health care, jobs, and the economy.
The state, historically a Republican stronghold, was reeling from an economic downslide. Unemployment was a little over 7 percent. Personal and business bankruptcies were skyrocketing. Thousands of people were behind in their mortgage payments.
When the vote was counted on the night of Feb. 18, Bush was the Republican winner, but spoiler Buchanan drew 35 percent of the disgruntled vote. Paul Tsongas took the Democratic primary, and Bill Clinton was a respectable second.
Now, seven months later, interviews with a few of the people who first spoke with the Monitor in New Hampshire just before the primary reveal some changing attitudes mingled with unshaken political loyalties. Unemployment here still hovers at 7 percent, and the state has the highest bankruptcy rate in the Northeast.
Jeanne Kubiak, a wife and mother from Exeter, stood eight months ago in the jampacked Exeter City Hall where Bush spoke at his first primary campaign appearance. She praised him then, and blamed Congress for causing the stalemate over legislation proposed by Bush.
Last week, standing on the sidelines of a soccer field while her daughter played, Mrs. Kubiak expressed disappointment with Bush. She says she was undecided about voting for him. "He hasn't dealt with the economy," she says. "He hasn't yelled enough at Congress to get things done. I was very uncomfortable watching the Republican convention and the way they used family values. My attitude is live and let live in this world. We don't need Quayle giving single mothers a hard time. You wonder about his judg ment, and Bush's judgment for picking him."
She praises Democratic candidate Bill Clinton for picking Albert Gore Jr. as his running mate. "Gore didn't hesitate to go to the Rio summit," she says, "and with his small kids, I think he really cares about the future of the environment. For me to vote for Bush, he has to show me some real leadership. Getting his photo taken with hurricane victims just doesn't cut it with me."
Seated in the Merrimack Wayside Furniture store in Concord where he has been manager for over 20 years, Donald Willis repeats what he said eight months ago. "I still trust Bush, "he says. "I'm a conservative human being, and I see Bush as consistent, as a man who gets things done quietly. Yes, he lacks charisma, but on foreign policy he is second to none. If Bush has enough guts to stand four more years, then God bless him, I'll support him."
This kind of Republican allegiance continues to be strong for Bush in New Hampshire.
A recent poll of 808 registered voters conducted by the Concord Monitor showed Bush favored over Clinton by a greater percentage than anywhere else in the US. Bush polls 45 percent
The survey gave Bush 45 percent among those polled to 39 percent for Clinton.
When it comes to the president working with Congress, Willis says: "How effective could Clinton be if he's never been on Capitol Hill? If Bush can't do it after all his years there, how can Clinton do it?"
As a result of his growing concern for unresolved problems in the US and his community, Willis says now: "I'm no longer passive as a
father, merchant, and a helper to politicians. Many of society's problems are the fault of our own glut, our own greed, not the president's fault, and the economy reflects this."
He admits his fear of going into inner cities. "I can't imagine what it must be like," he says, shaking his head. "I don't want to go near it, and maybe Bush feels the same way. But he has to deal with it. Maybe he needs better advice. Maybe he needs to visit inner cities without all that entourage around him."
At the Little Professor bookstore in Portsmouth, manager Harriet Philbrick has just returned from vacation. Eight months ago she was unimpressed with all the candidates and rated them a five on a scale of 10. "I just might vote for Ralph Nader," she said then.
Now, because Clinton chose Albert Gore Jr. as a running mate, and for other reasons, she will vote for Clinton. "I like Clinton," she says. "He was tested by the mud slinging, and I think he came through it. It's silly to criticize him on Vietnam. I had a brother killed there, and I wish he hadn't gone. Clinton should have said the war was wrong; he should have said it right away, but he played politics with it."
Philbrick is adamant in her beliefs about Bush.
"I think he lies," she says. "I'm still angry at him for the way he treated Dukakis. I think the way Bush acts indicates he is tired and angry, and not inclusive of all Americans. The president sets an attitude and a tone of how we are as a people, and Clinton acts as if he wants to include all Americans. If Clinton chooses his cabinet the way he chose Al Gore, then I think he'll do a good as President."
Philbrick thinks Hillary Clinton is an asset in the campaign. "I feel defensive for her," she says, "because if she and her husband did have marital problems, and they are together, then to me this shows strength of character."
Eight months ago, Rosa Vasquez was at the Salvation Army Center in Nashua looking for clothes and playthings for her children. A native of the Dominican Republic, Mrs. Vasquez has three children and continues to be on welfare. Her husband remains in the Dominican Republic.
She had a job as a stitcher in a Nashua factory for several years, but lost it when she had to return to her native home for a family emergency. "I want to stay here and be a citizen," she says. She wants to learn to be a hairdresser, "but with three children, I can't," she says. "I want to know more about Bush and Clinton, but it is hard for me to learn." In November she will try to pass the test for United States citizenship.
Paul Binette, chairman of the board of selectmen for Exeter, said eight months ago that "Bush was a president who had to try to get the economy going." As a loyal Republican, he still supports Bush now, but hasn't change his mind about jobs and the economy. Jobs biggest issue
"The biggest issue to me is jobs," he says, seated in the Exeter city hall, "but if the market isn't functioning well, how do you do it? In the sunday papers there are 8 or 9 pages of jobs, so some jobs are out there. I would like the government to help more in finding jobs for people, and get them off welfare. Both candidates are saying they are going to create jobs, but not telling us how."
"Who Clinton went out with shouldn't be part of the campaign,"he says, "but I think avoiding the draft is an issue. A man running for President who didn't want to serve his country, that's an issue."