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Pembroke: N.H.’s most ‘purple’ town

  • Tom Schofield stands in the door of the Main Street barber shop he owns in Suncook. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Main Street of Suncook is shown. The village is shared by the town of Pembroke, which voted in favor or Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump over Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton by less than three percentage points. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Sunday, November 13, 2016

Tom Schofield left his electrical job more than two years ago to become a barber. A 48-year-old history buff, he wanted to listen to people.

From behind the single chair in his Suncook shop, Schofield has heard both sides of the election, red comb and silver scissors in hand.

“The vibe has been really mixed,” he said Friday morning, as he buzzed graying hair off the side of a customer’s head. “Some people are really, really excited about Donald Trump getting his chance, others are mortified.”

Perhaps nowhere is the division of New Hampshire’s electorate more evident than in Pembroke, a town of 7,100 people that borders Concord and shares the village of Suncook with neighboring Allenstown.

On Tuesday, voters picked Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by less than three percentage points. They chose Democrat Colin Van Ostern over Republican winner Chris Sununu by 20 votes.

The state’s tightest race, between Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Maggie Hassan, was the closest in town, where only two votes, out of more than 3,800 cast, separated the women.

Voters said they weren’t happy with the choices, especially for president, and picked the candidate they found best suited for the job, regardless of party.

“A lot of people are fed up with the two-party system,” said Stephenie Byars, a 35-year-old Pembroke resident who owns the homebrew store Kettle to Keg with her husband. “There are people who are left leaning but agree with some right policies, and vice versa.”

Trump was generally more popular among older voters, while Clinton held an edge among youth. Similarly, voters with higher education levels favored the Democrat. Roughly 28 percent of Pembroke residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, about the same percentage as the state average.

Like New Hampshire, Pembroke has swung back and forth in past elections. The town picked President Obama twice and Republican George W. Bush in 2004. The town mirrors the state in other ways. Pembroke’s median annual income is $67,264 and the average age is 39-years-old – roughly $1,000 higher and two years shy of state averages.

Economic realities motivated many voters. Costa Troupakis, who has run a pizza shop in downtown for 26 years, has seen businesses come and go. A now-empty furniture store will soon be replaced with a toy museum.

James Dusash sat alone, sipping a coffee, at the breakfast counter in Rock On Diner, contemplating whether to go hunting on his day off. The sheet metal engineer voted in his first general election Tuesday and split his ticket, choosing Trump for president and Democrats for governor and U.S. Senate.

“For all the years I didn’t vote, I didn’t think it would matter,” he said. “I felt differently this year.”

Dudash has been laid off “too many times,” including once 10 years ago the day after he was pre-approved for a loan to buy his first house.

“That hurt,” he said. “It just seems like a struggle to get ahead.”