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What Do New Hampshire’s Voters Want in a Republican Nominee?

January 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
The entire Republican presidential field will share a stage Saturday in Manchester, N.H., for the first of two weekend debates. But what are Granite State voters looking for in a GOP nominee? Gwen Ifill spoke with five Republican and Independent voters in New Hampshire.
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To compile our roundtable panel of New Hampshire voters, The NewsHour used the Public Insight Network — a public media consortium of more than 130,000 sources — in addition to calling civic groups, universities, state parties, and political and advocacy groups.

JEFFREY BROWN: Gwen Ifill talked with five New Hampshire Republicans and independents, all weighing their choices before Tuesday’s primary. She sat down with them last night in a home in the town of Bedford.

GWEN IFILL: Thank you all for joining us.

I’m so anxious to hear what you all have to say about these candidates who have taken over your state this week.

Anna, I guess I will start with you.

What are you hearing so far that you like from these candidates. And what are you hearing that you still have questions about?

Iowa doesn't influence the way I'm going to vote, personally. When I look at the candidates, I look to see whose social policies I'm comfortable with or, depending on the range that's available, who I can live with, who seems like they're most willing to come to the middle.Anna Peterson, New Hampshire voter

ANNA PETERSON, New Hampshire voter: I like the candidates that are talking about working together and trying to move things forward. I’m not hearing it from a lot of them. Most of them are saying, you know, not Obama, not Obama, which I guess is one way to go.

But I think that the best way for the government to move forward is to start working together and start accomplishing some things. So any candidate that is talking about that is speaking to something that I think is important.

GWEN IFILL: Ted, thank you for having us in your home.

TED GORSKI, New Hampshire voter: Well, it’s my pleasure. Welcome. Welcome back to New Hampshire.

GWEN IFILL: Thank you.

What are you hearing that you like, that you don’t — and that you don’t like?

TED GORSKI: Some of the things that I like is the fact that I hear some of the candidates talking about solutions. And, you know, that’s important to me.

I mean, we are in a deep — we have some deep problems here in this country. And I’m more solution-driven. I think that’s real important. The thing that I’m really not really happy about is the way that they’re attacking each other. It’s okay to say, here’s our differences. But what I am seeing and hearing is a more vindictive kind of thing. And that’s not what our country needs right now. Our country really needs solutions.

GWEN IFILL: Debi, I see you nodding as Ted says that.

DEBI RAPSON, New Hampshire voter: Absolutely.

I think, if we can’t be civil, then we’re not a civil society. And I see a lot of non-civility. I just don’t like it at all.

GWEN IFILL: Who’s guilty of it?

DEBI RAPSON: They’re all guilty of it. You know, I’m partisan. I’m bipartisan. I’m a Republican. I’m a Democrat. I really — honestly, I don’t care. I just want them to get the job done.

GWEN IFILL: Dennis, you are retired. You have voted in — I won’t say how old you are, but you have voted in your share of elections.

DENNIS BRADY, New Hampshire voter: Yes, I have.

GWEN IFILL: Does this one sound different to you, feel different?

DENNIS BRADY: Well, I would have to agree with Ted. I think this one is a little bit too negative — much negativism.

And I think that that is really wrong for this country. We’re badly divided and too much fighting going on, and not looking for solutions that this country really needs to embrace. We’re going the wrong way.

And I always tell my friends, you know, I’m the generation that’s checking out, but I have got kids and grandkids that are inheriting this. And I want it to be good for them.

GWEN IFILL: Josh, you are an Iraq war vet. You feel strongly that things have to change and there’s got to be someone who is willing to talk tough to change it.

JOSHUA HOLMES, New Hampshire voter: Basically, the biggest problem that I see with the gridlock that we have been in, I would say since Congress changed hands — actually, no, not even since that – I’d say since the beginning of the global war on terror – we’ve been doing one thing.

And we haven’t come up with a way out. We haven’t defined what it is that is going to satisfy basically victory in the global war on terror. And until we define victory, until we develop a plan to achieve that victory and then to end the war, soldiers are going to continue to die.

GWEN IFILL: And who do you think has got a plan?

JOSHUA HOLMES: I think that Dr. Paul is the first person, the only person now that Gary Johnson is out of the race. All of the other candidates are planning on continuing the global war on terror without any objectives.

GWEN IFILL: So let’s get down to brass tacks. Which of these candidates is saying things that you think you need to hear?

DENNIS BRADY: I look at Romney as being a leader, somebody who has stepped into situations that weren’t necessarily going the right direction. And I think he has a great business experience. And right now, we need to get the economy cranking and get some jobs going. So I think he’s well capable of doing that. He’s the right guy for this time.

GWEN IFILL: So, Ted, if the polls are to be believed, what Dennis is saying is what a lot of other New Hampshire folks are saying. What are you saying?

TED GORSKI: I’ve listened to Mitt. I have listened to them all. I’ve met – I’ve met many of them and have talked to them face-to-face.

The one that I’m moving towards is Newt. I have heard him in the debates. I’ve talked to him. I’ve seen him here in New Hampshire. And what I see is a bright guy. He has solutions and he’s brought up solutions and he’s talked solutions.

I will say, though, Gwen, that the thing that has concerned me both is, based on the Iowa caucuses and his reaction, that has concerned me a bit, because…

GWEN IFILL: Which reaction?

TED GORSKI: Well, he came across as being very angry, and vs. saying, you know what, I lost this in Iowa, I’ll get the next one.

GWEN IFILL: I’m really curious about that, Anna, because a lot of folks say that people in New Hampshire don’t much pay attention to what happened in Iowa. But, certainly, Iowa tossed everything up in the air.

ANNA PETERSON:  Iowa doesn’t influence the way I’m going to vote, personally.

When I look at the candidates, I look to see whose social policies I’m comfortable with or, depending on the range that’s available, who I can live with, who seems like they’re most willing to come to the middle. And then I go from there.

So, in this field, there’s really only a few people who are moderate, and they’re trying to hide it desperately, naturally. But — so those are really the candidates that I’m bouncing between.

GWEN IFILL: You’ve got less than a week, Anna.

ANNA PETERSON:  Oh, I know.

GWEN IFILL: And?

ANNA PETERSON:  Well, I mean, I have narrowed it down to two as I have any interest. So it’s probably between Mitt and Huntsman.

GWEN IFILL: Josh, you said earlier that you are very — you worked last time for Ron Paul. You’re supporting Ron Paul this time.

How — why is he doing so much better? Why, in your opinion, is he getting so much more attention, so much more support, so much more money than he did four years ago?

JOSHUA HOLMES: Well, simply, the things that he was talking about four years ago have – they’ve manifested. I mean, he predicted the financial meltdown back in 2001 and warned about it for almost a decade before it happened.

He warned about the consequences of the Iraq war, especially the long-term consequences. And now we’re actually seeing those consequences. And that opens people’s minds to the idea that this guy, who did warn us, might have the solutions.

GWEN IFILL: Debi, so many Republicans I’ve talked to and independents have said this — they are animated this year by the desire to replace President Obama. How important is that to you? How disappointed or not disappointed are you by the current incumbent president?

DEBI RAPSON: Well, I voted for him last time. And I’m very disappointed in what hasn’t happened.

There were so many things that were promised, so many things that he said we were going to get or that were going to change or that were going to happen. And whether it is because of what he walked into, or whether it’s Congress, or lack of leadership, I’m not sure, but I’m very disappointed with that.

GWEN IFILL: So that means, among the people who are running to replace him, you’re leaning toward?

DEBI RAPSON: I’m actually leaning very strongly towards Mr. Huntsman, because of his talk and his conversation about education and economy and how they intersect and how important those two things are. They have to be together.

Mr. Romney is a very nice man. I have met him. But somebody asked him in one of the town hall meetings about how Middle America was going to get back to having a life. And he said, yes, you know, I’m really worried about my investments, too.

Hello? Middle America doesn’t have any investments anymore. We — we don’t have that benefit that we used to have.

GWEN IFILL: Is anybody listening anew to Rick Santorum, who wasn’t — who has been running here a lot, but hadn’t really done well until Iowa?

Ted?

TED GORSKI: Yeah, actually, Rick was my second between Newt and Rick.

What I like about Rick is his stands, his principles and his values. I spoke to him on several occasions and had a very good feel.

GWEN IFILL: Does this election need, or does the next president need to be an outsider, an insider, or someone who has a little bit of outside/inside cred?

ANNA PETERSON:  I would say outside/inside cred. I mean I think that Washington is an institution, and if you don’t have any experience, then you’re going to spend part of it — part of your time there, your short time there just figuring out the lay of the land and how it works.

But if you have someone who is too entrenched in the way things are working, then they’re not working right now. So that’s got to hurt you.

TED GORSKI: I think one of the things besides the inside-out is we need a collaborator.

The president sets the tone. It is a top-down kind of thing. And I expect the president to be a collaborator.

GWEN IFILL: Josh?

JOSHUA HOLMES: I only want the Congress to work together when they are actually working towards something that I think will help the country.

I don’t want them to collaborate on spending money that I haven’t earned yet.

GWEN IFILL: So, collaboration is overrated?

JOSHUA HOLMES: Collaboration, it has to be for — it has to be for a purpose that actually benefits the American people.

DEBI RAPSON: And I think, really, whether you collaborate or you don’t collaborate, if you aren’t in touch with the American public, you can collaborate all you want, but it’s not to going to benefit us.

GWEN IFILL: Well, as you all approach primary day, for those of you who have made up your minds, I wish your candidates good luck. And for those of you still deciding, I wish you good luck.

Thank you all very much.

ANNA PETERSON:  Thank you.

DEBI RAPSON: Thank you.

JOSHUA HOLMES: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The people in Gwen’s discussion were selected with the help of civic and educational organizations in New Hampshire.

And, for the record, none of the voters mentioned Texas Gov. Rick Perry in that conversation. As we said earlier, he is headed to New Hampshire this evening.

And now, for more on the campaign, Margaret Warner talks with Gwen.

MARGARET WARNER: And hi, Gwen.

You — that was a fascinating discussion. You’re quite a veteran of New Hampshire primaries. What struck you about those voters, as compared to, say, voters in Republican primaries past?

GWEN IFILL: Well, I was interested in the degree to which they really were not talking about the candidates, as much as they were talking about what it is the candidates have to say.

Now, four years ago, when we were here in New Hampshire, Margaret, we had two primaries going on, the Democrats’ and the Republicans’, so there was a lot more going on, a lot more conversation, even a lot more television advertising.

Right now, because it is a Republican primary in which undeclared voters can participate, people are thinking very carefully about what these candidates have to say. There’s a reason why Rick Perry’s name didn’t come up. He’s at 1 percent in the latest polls. He hasn’t been really campaigning in New Hampshire.

On the other hand, someone like Jon Huntsman, who has been campaigning here, is only at 8 percent in the poll. So people are making — or at least it seemed to me the people in that room last night and voters I talked to along the way seem to be making their decisions based on a series of principles, rather than just whoever has put on the last television ad. And that’s uniquely New Hampshire.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, this is always a famously volatile final week in the New Hampshire primary.

Is there much movement among, say, the top rung of candidates? Is Romney suffering from these attacks? Is Santorum getting any kind of bounce or second look after Iowa?

GWEN IFILL: You know, this is one of these things where you take the numbers that you see and you put it up against what your eyes see.

What my eyes have been able to see is that people are taking a second look at Santorum. But when you look at the numbers, the latest — WMUR, which is the ABC affiliate here in New Hampshire, their latest poll out this evening shows Romney still out way ahead with like 44 percent of the vote, followed by Ron Paul with less than half of that at 20 percent.

And then there’s this weird little fight for third place among Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, each of them with 7 percent or 8 percent. So, when you look at the numbers, not much has changed. The question I find compelling about this primary is not so much who’s ahead and who is behind, but what it is everyone’s talking about.

What’s moving these voters to either stick with their candidate or consider and decide later on?

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how is Rick Santorum’s — at least the socially conservative part of his message playing in New Hampshire, which, as we know, does not have the kind of evangelical base that Iowa does?

GWEN IFILL: Well, exactly, Margaret.

Not only is New Hampshire considered to be the home of far more moderate Republicans, as well as undeclared candidates who can vote in the Republican primary, but also they’re not a big churchgoing population here in New Hampshire.

So someone like Rick Santorum comes in. And he was — people are listening to him, but then late yesterday he went to speak at a college, a group of college students’ organization in Concord, New Hampshire, and then he started talking about gay marriage, and he compared it to polygamy. And he got booed off the stage.

Then, this afternoon, a whole lot of other protesters, including Occupy movement people, as well as gay marriage proponents, started showing up at events and heckling him again. His response, probably not very judiciously, was, well, people on the — this is like most people in New Hampshire. That’s what they do.

That’s not exactly how you win over New Hampshire people.

(LAUGHTER)

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Gwen, that’s fascinating reporting. We will be looking forward to it in the next coming days. Thanks.

GWEN IFILL: Thanks, Margaret.