New Hampshire, Vermont’s frigid, industrial conjoined twin, has the self-assigned duty of hosting the first primary in the nation. The state is, rightfully, a little bit intense about it. Today’s New Hampshire primary is nestled between religious Iowa’s caucus and also-religious South Carolina’s primary, and provides something of a balancing effect: New Hampshire voters tend not only to be more secular, but also extremely, passionately moderate.
The slow-motion highway pileup that is this year’s presidential election has thus far largely revolved around some good old American fear, coupled with a bipartisan judgement call on what is good for women. We are currently witnessing a bizarrely messy battle on the left about how a good feminist ought to behave; meanwhile, Republicans have shown no signs that they’re done trying to limit women’s reproductive and equal pay rights. Surely, we thought, if we asked a handful of New Hampshire voters what was best for women, they would have to have some sort of opinion.
It turns out that most of them didn’t. “The women versus men issue isn’t uniting us all together,” one Rubio supporter said, echoing the views of the majority of Republicans we spoke with. A Rand Paul supporter nicknamed “Cowboy” referenced his two previous wives (“both highly successful women earning more money than me, God bless”) and then derailed into a soliloquy about Charlie Sheen and riding his horse cross-country. Democrats tended to give us a “duh” look, replying with either “a woman for president!” or referencing reproductive rights and equal pay.
But voters were more than happy to tell us what to fear. At a series of events for GOP candidates, Republicans, libertarians, and a few open-minded Democrats let us get inside their heads. (Quotes edited slightly for length and clarity.)
Don, a Rand Paul supporter now “speed dating” for a new candidate:
“I’m most afraid of just being disappointed again, just being disappointed again.”
Kathleen, a Hillary Clinton supporter:
“I’m afraid that someone extreme is going to get in. I’d rather have someone more middle-of-the-road. I’ve been trying to see everybody. I mean, really, it’s a great process. They’re here, so we have to see them and we have to participate.”
Howard a.k.a. “Cowboy,” a Rand Paul supporter now leaning towards Ted Cruz:
“No question about it, the national debt... [Marco] Rubio says we ought to spend another trillion dollars on defense. Where’s the money coming from? He won’t say. It’s both parties. They’ve been spending and borrowing money like there’s no tomorrow. We are burying you in debt, and we’ll all be dead in a couple of years!”
Laurie, a Rubio supporter:
“I’m most afraid of the same as the last four years. Nothing in life is free, and that’s what really needs to be fixed here and in the whole country. The people are living off the system. The people that are coming in and we’re helping out more than we’re helping out our own. And school has to be fixed, we’re paying two college kids going through college now and it’s a big bite.”
Stephanie, deciding between Gov. John Kasich and Carly Fiorina:
“I think [Hillary Clinton is] a liar, and I definitely don’t want to see socialism creeping into our country. Ted Cruz scares me a lot, I think he’s a cheater and a liar. So, do I expect anybody in office to get much done? Probably not. But I think an outsider has a better chance of disrupting the process and getting people to start talking.”
Linda, who will probably vote Republican:
“The biggest fear I have is that we’re going to get another leader in there who is not diplomatic, or who is a bully. Trump, it would be absolutely abhorrent if he got in.”
Jordan, a Chris Christie supporter who spit out a wad of dip while speaking to us:
“Trump I think is probably the next Antichrist. And then Hillary, my wife’s an active duty Marine and when Hillary took those emails home, it completely traded America as far as I’m concerned. I got a big issue with that. Christie, just being the guy he is, he’s big military and it seems like he’s not going to take no for an answer when it comes down to the brass tacks of things. That’s what I’m really looking forward to. Someone that’s not going to take stuff lying down.”
Don, deciding between Hillary Clinton and John Kasich:
“The only thing I’m afraid of is Donald Trump being elected president. He doesn’t get substantial on the issues. Of all the candidates, he’s the best entertainer, I mean, if you’re going to watch someone for entertainment, watch him, watch his face, watch his hands. He’s wonderful up there. But as a candidate I don’t think he’s realistic at all.”
Lisa, deciding between Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio:
“I think for us as moms, we want opportunities for our kids. I think a big piece for my children is college debt. Not that I want the government to pay anything, but I think somehow the system has to be reworked a little bit. It’s too expensive.”
At Friday evening’s McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Celebration—an odd gala dinner-cum-rally held in Manchester’s Verizon Arena that resulted in a few attendees dressed in cocktail attire and thousands dressed like they were going to a football game—we encountered a wide array of staunchly Democratic voters, whose priorities were somewhat different than those above.
Rosemary and Gayle, two politically active New Hampshirites in their late 60's, were more than happy to share how much work still needed to be done for women.
“Women need to be respected as human beings who are more than equal to men in possibilities and abilities,” Rosemary said readily. “We need to be allowed to have our bodies as our own; we need Planned Parenthood; we need to be earning as much in the business sectors as males; we need to be listened to and heard from because we operate from a different point of view and are more likely to sit down and try to resolve things.”
Gayle added, “The only thing I didn’t hear was breastfeeding rights.”
“I actually stopped working for women’s rights when I got so disappointed that the women younger than me weren’t carrying on the fight,” Gayle continued. “They were like, ‘Eh, you got it done.’ I was marching on Washington a long time ago and joined [the National Organization for Women,] and everyone just took it for granted. But I see your generation is starting to figure it out.”
“Climate change is another thing that bothers me,” Rosemary said, at which point the conversation took a sharp and unexpected turn. “Food quality, with Monsanto, GMOs, we have got to make a stand because Monsanto is big business and they’ve also got a lot of connections in Washington. And I’ve had 5 children. But I didn’t have to worry about this stuff. I didn’t worry whether my babies were gonna be inoculated 69 times before they were five years old. Unheard of! Craziness!”
Liam, an undecided Democrat and college student:
“Bernie-Trump. I’m just worried about the quality of the debate if it gets to that kind of a situation due to the ideological differences there and the polarity that that would cause.”
A Clinton supporter in a ballgown who glided away as we asked for her name:
Michael, a 20-something Sanders volunteer who is decidedly not a Bernie Bro, “although I suppose I’m wearing a fedora at the moment”:
“I worry that with the people being fielded by the GOP right now being particularly unreasonable, I genuinely worry that one of them could win the general election. Trump is bad, but Cruz is just as bad in different ways. Any of those front-runners winning would mean four years of a country I’m not happy to live in.”
Teri, a homeless Clinton supporter who explained that her birth date, 09-11-60, is the same upside-down:
“I have no fear.”
Images by Ellie Shechet.