TOPICS > Politics

Last-Minute Decisions

February 19, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Snow gave way to sunshine in New Hampshire Sunday on this last weekend before the Presidential primary here. But on this holiday weekend, many voters were still wrestling with their choice. Strategists for all the candidates acknowledged that the outcome of Tuesday’s primary would be determined by the unusually high number of voters who remained uncommitted in the final days, voters like Laura Monica of Bow. She’s the mother of seven-year-old twins, and the owner of a public relations firm with her husband, Bill. Polls show the undecided Republican and independent voters tend to be much like Laura Monica, college-educated, between twenty-five and fifty, employed, but financially pressed. A high percentage of them are women.

LAURA MONICA: I think this is a fairly lackluster group. They don’t–they’re not energizing people, they haven’t created a vision. There’s no charisma coming through on any of these candidates, and whether or not they’ll have a good shot against Clinton in the general election is a real question mark.

MARGARET WARNER: So you’re disappointed in the campaign so far?

LAURA MONICA: Yeah. I think it’s been very disappointing. There’s been a lot of negative campaigning up here, and people in New Hampshire really take a good, hard look at these candidates, and they want to hear the issues, and they want to hear what they’re going to do. And so far really we haven’t heard that.

MARGARET WARNER: Laura Monica has gone to hear most of the contenders at local civic clubs She even helped organize a candidate’s pancake breakfast in Manchester, but she says she hasn’t heard enough from the Republican field about the issue that concerns her most.

LAURA MONICA: I think the issue that’s probably the most important to me is the economy, what’s going on not only in this state but in the region and in the country.

MARGARET WARNER: But I mean, when you go to Rotary Club, don’t they then talk about what they’re going to do?

LAURA MONICA: They do a bit, but they also will–and they certainly do–but they’ll also spend a lot of time telling you what they think other candidates have not done, or where they have failed, or when they have raised taxes in the past, or whatever it is that they want to bring up.

MARGARET WARNER: Last Fall, she hoped that Colin Powell would run.

LAURA MONICA: Well, really because it was someone who could possibly bring a new perspective, someone with some new ideas, certainly someone with a great deal of integrity, and I think that that’s a very important value for any candidate to have and certainly for our President to have.

MARGARET WARNER: Then she seriously considered Steve Forbes. As a small businesswoman, she liked Forbes’ ideas for simplifying the tax code, but she came to see him as a one-issue candidate. So she kept looking. Laura Monica isn’t surprised to learn that a high percentage of late undecided voters are Republican and independent women.

LAURA MONICA: I think for many women, this field of candidates is a disappointment. There–for any woman who might be pro-choice, there is no candidate that’s a pro-choice candidate in this field. And even those that maybe are, are saying that they aren’t.

MARGARET WARNER: Also disappointed, in fact, bitterly disappointed, are Bud and Joanne Grady. A World War II veteran, Bud Grady has been downsized out of a number of jobs over the years. He and his wife had both responded to Pat Buchanan’s economic message. But then allegations surfaced that Buchanan’s campaign co-chairman, Gun Owners of America head Larry Pratt, had associated with white supremacists and right-wing militia groups.

BUD GRADY: I can’t help feel that Mr. Buchanan should have had knowledge of this, or should have known about it, and if he did, why didn’t he do something about it? And this is what’s disturbing me, that he should have if he didn’t.

JOANNE GRADY: It came as a surprise to me because I didn’t think Pat Buchanan would be associated with anybody this terrible, you know that even way back that he had done this. I mean, he seemed to be such a straightforward man, and then to have this come out, I mean, it was scary.

MARGARET WARNER: The Gradys are leaning toward Dole now, but like most uncommitted voters who are on the verge of deciding, they have doubts about even the candidates they like.

JOANNE GRADY: The positive side of Dole, as I explained to you before, is that he’s a gentleman, he’s experienced in the Senate, and his being a veteran. Those are the positives. The negative I think maybe he’s a little bit old. This is what has been bothering me along the way watching him.

BUD GRADY: Because he can handle Washington, I mean, he could handle Congress, I mean, I feel very comfortable with him, if that was going to be my choice. The negative side on him, at times he appears to be a little bit arrogant.

MARGARET WARNER: On this last weekend, Beth Fischer, who runs a bed and breakfast in Durham with her husband, Bob, was also still trying to decide.

BETH FISCHER: I hear a lot of the same promises. I hear a lot of campaign rhetoric. I hear a–I think that sometimes the candidates are speaking to us as if we are not intelligent, and it comes off on sound bites, it comes off as a situation that they aren’t thinking that we’re thinking, that we’re recognizing the needs that this country has. And they’re playing to whatever audience they feel that they need to play to.

MARGARET WARNER: You were a major Dole supporter in ’88.

BETH FISCHER: I was. I was. I liked him. I liked his brashness. I liked his sense of humor. I really felt that that particular point in time Bob Dole was his own man, but I’m not so sure that he’s the right tonic for the country at this particular point in time.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s missing in this field?

BETH FISCHER: None of the candidates really feel me with an excitement, umm, because I don’t think they’re particularly excited about running.

MARGARET WARNER: Yet, despite their lack of enthusiasm, all these undecided voters still plan to go to the polls.

LAURA MONICA: I would never consider not voting. I think every person certainly in this state, which is an important one for the nation, should do–it’s their responsibility to take a look at these candidates and make a decision.

MARGARET WARNER: And when will they decide whom to vote for?

BUD GRADY: I think I’ll make up my mind prior, a few minutes prior to walking into that voting booth.

MARGARET WARNER: And you, Joanne?

JOANNE GRADY: I’ll do the same way.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s that last-minute decision-making that’s brought about so many surprises on New Hampshire primary night.