Andre Gibeau's decision came down to a choice between following his head or his heart. His heart was beating "90 percent" for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, he says. But "10 percent" was thinking: Sen. Barack Obama. In the end, he says, he followed his heart.
Betty Ward was won over by Senator Obama and his message of hope.
Donna Richards, after careful calculation of all the candidates' policies and worldviews, went with John Edwards.
These unaffiliated voters, like about 6 in 10 New Hampshire independents, cast Democratic ballots in the state primary Tuesday, according to a Monitor analysis of NBC exit polls. Enough of these political free spirits pulled Republican ballots to help boost Sen. John McCain to victory on the GOP side. But the overarching tilt of Granite State independents toward the Democrats, mirroring the trend five days earlier in Iowa, may be an early indicator of how America's growing ranks of independent voters may tilt come November.
"In New Hampshire and nationwide it bodes well for the Democratic nominee and the rest of Democrats on the ticket because independents actually did vote in the Democratic primary," says Dick Bennett, president of the American Research Group, a polling firm based in Manchester, N.H. "Independents dislike partisanship and don't really like to participate in primaries."
Interest in New Hampshire independents has been high because, well, they make up such a large share of the electorate here: 44 percent. True to their reputation as unpredictable and freethinking, many had not made up their minds until primary day or a few days before.
Focus on the Constitution
Even Mr. Gibeau, a self-described news junkie, was undecided as of Tuesday morning. On Election Day, he had two TVs on – one tuned to CNN, one to MSNBC – and he continued to read online and listen to the radio.
Gibeau, an attorney, says he had the US Constitution uppermost in thought when he went in to vote. He was drawn to Ohio's Representative Kucinich because of their shared views on "personal liberties, restoring the Constitution, focusing on the balance of trade, especially where China is concerned," he says.
He was adamant that his vote not be a strategic decision. "If I voted for Obama, it would be less for Obama and more against Hillary [Rodham Clinton]." He cites his "dislike of Bill Clinton's foreign policy and the suspicious activities that the Clintons have been engaged in" as reasons Mrs. Clinton was not his candidate.
Gibeau says he's satisfied with his decision. "I went with my conscience and my heart," he says.
Concern for kids' future
Ms. Richards made her decision within the past two weeks, after seeing Mr. Edwards in person for a second time. She was eager to settle on someone so she could help her candidate win, she says. Edwards's detailed policies were only part of the reason she chose him.
"He'll be the one sitting behind the desk thinking about the garden-variety American. It's not cerebral for him, it's not academic, it's not political, it's personal," Richards says.
Edwards is also the one she would trust with her children. "His message about leaving the world better for your children is very powerful. Other people adopted it. I am of the generation where my kids may not make out better than I did," she says.
Appeal of a 'fresh face'
Ms. Ward's moment of decision came Monday evening. She liked what Bill Richardson, Ron Paul, and Dennis Kucinich had to say about the Iraq war. So what was it about Obama that sealed the deal for her? "Sometimes it takes someone with a fresh face to say an old message so it's brand-new," she says.
Obama drew more of the independent vote here – about 24 percent – than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican. Clinton garnered about 18.6 percent of independents, and Senator McCain 15.1 percent. The remainder cast ballots for one of the nine other candidates, the exit poll data showed.
Ward acknowledges that by voting for Obama she made compromises on issues she cares about, including his position on the war in Afghanistan. "I want all the boys and girls home in America," she says, and out of harm's way.
The decision, ultimately, was not an easy one for her. "I don't feel the fire in this," she says.
Independent voter Russ Ouellette, on the other hand, says he was "very excited" to vote for Obama. The issues weren't what moved him. He was looking for someone who would be a "leader," able to "move beyond fear and divisiveness to get something done." He was inspired by Obama's call for "a new kind of politics."
The Illinois senator's personal story is compelling, too, he says.
"Part of me is glad that he is an African-American. Part of me is glad that he has a Muslim name. Part of me is glad that he has no experience. Because that is drastically different. The traditional rich white man with 35 years of experience is not necessarily going to be able to think objectively about what needs to be done."
But Mr. Ouellette wants to ensure that Obama will remain as committed to reaching out to independents and Republicans as his sweeping words suggest.
For that reason, Ouellette tempers his enthusiasm with a note of caution. "I reserve my feelings because I don't know what's going to happen," he says.
• Other stories in this series appeared Nov. 20 and Dec. 24.