In New Hampshire, the swing voters who count first
In New Hampshire, undeclared voters dominate the political landscape and may hold the key to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
(Page 3 of 3)
"There are bigger issues to talk about than who are you voting for. Let's talk about reform."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Donna Richards, small-business owner:
"What I'm looking for ... has to do with who they are as a person and what their policies are, as well. It has to be someone who ... will speak the truth and act according to what he or she has set forth as their core values or principles or policies. I think we've lost that ... trust in our leaders. I think that's not only important to us as citizens of this country, but on the world stage they need to be credible." .
Since independents aren't organized or listed on any party's Rolodex, they play a special role in Granite State politics. They're observers rather than activists, says Arnie Arnesen, a New Hampshire TV and radio talk-show host.
So campaigns reaching out for their support are tailoring their message – with varying levels of success.
Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has focused on appealing to female voters, has the support of 45 percent of women who are likely to vote in the Democratic primary, according to a poll released by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion on Nov. 11.
Barack Obama is targeting the 18-to-24 demographic, which tends to register as undeclared, says Dick Bennett, head of American Research Group. Mr. Obama leads Ms. Clinton by 13 percent among first-time voters, according to the Marist poll. Overall, he is closing a 20-point gap with Clinton, the Democrats' front-runner.
But "There's been no clear candidate for change. No one's grabbed that mantle, not even Obama," says Dante Scala, a political scientist.
Former Democratic Sen. John Edwards hopes that he will. "My message runs across party lines and ideological lines," he told reporters after a recent speech.
On the Republican side, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani garners 24 percent of independents, while Sen. John McCain of Arizona captures 22 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney draws 19 percent in the Marist poll. Giuliani receives more backing from moderates than his rivals.
At the same time, GOP candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has piqued the interest among some people here by talking about limited government and withdrawing troops from Iraq. He has polled as high as 7 percent.
"He's the only [Republican] who doesn't scare the daylight out of me," says attorney Andre Gibeau, mostly because of Mr. Paul's focus on constitutional rights. "I don't think any enemy from the outside can do the damage to the United States that we can do internally if we change the nature of our democracy."
Senator McCain's campaign is seeking to revive the magic McCain had when he courted and won voters in 2000. In that New Hampshire primary, the antiestablishment candidates McCain and Bill Bradley (D) competed for support among independent voters, who turned out by a significant margin to help McCain trounce George W. Bush by 19 points.
Although polls show independents are poised to vote in the Democratic contest this time, Mr. Scala cautions that if the Democratic primary looks as if it's going to be a rout, they may vote in the Republican contest instead.
Betty Ward says she's likely to decide which ballot to choose on Election Day and make her final decision in the voting booth. "I really don't know at this point because it's just too far off," she adds.