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On primary day, the president’s presence was loud and clear

  • Michelle Gosselin on the left, her mother Marian Zanoni on the right at Three Rivers School in Pembroke. Ray Duckler / Monitor staff

  • Michelle Gosselin (left) and her mother Marian Zanoni stand for a photo at Three Rivers School in Pembroke on Tuesday. Ray Duckler / Monitor staff



Monitor columnist
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The president of the United States was everywhere you looked Tuesday morning at Three Rivers School in Pembroke.

He was on the sidewalks in front of the school. He was in the parking lot beyond the sidewalks. He was on everyone’s mind. As usual.

President Trump wasn’t literally there for Tuesday’s primary election, of course. Still, you could almost hear The Donald saying “Believe me,” to voters like Kathy Howes, who emerged from the school and told me, “With what I’m seeing on the news, I never used to be into politics, but now I am. I don’t believe certain people should be in government, the people who don’t want to learn the process.”

Her reference was obvious. So on a day when Democratic voters chose Molly Kelly over Steve Marchand as their nominee for governor – which now means a record 15 women have won gubernatorial nominations this election season – it was the president himself who made his presence most felt, directly influencing the state’s desire to head to the polls.

Which led to the questions: How far right will you lean to show support for Trump? How far left will you move to oppose him? Is there anyone in the middle anymore?

And how much does the fact that Trump is in the White House – with negativity and controversy swirling around him, and the GOP shouting from the rooftops that it’s the economy, stupid – play a part in mainstream voters showing up at Three Rivers School in the first place?

All those emotions and feelings and thoughts were on display in Pembroke, a town that was virtually split between Trump and Hillary Clinton two years ago.

As Howes alluded to, the perception among Trump’s critics stems from guilt by association. Trump’s orbit, filled with resignations and firings and plea deals and guilty verdicts, must mean something, right?

So what if those other corrupt people were involved with income tax evasion and money laundering and lying to the FBI? With Trump, nothing has surfaced yet about Russia or collusion or obstruction of justice. So let the guy be, right?

“They need to leave him alone and let him do his job,” Kim Bower told me on her way to the parking lot. “I think there are a lot of people who really like him who are just not saying it. He’s doing good for the economy and I think they should let that Russia thing alone. They’re just spending money for no reason.”

Try telling that to John McDonnell, a 91-year-old former stone worker who first voted 70 years ago. Trump stirred something inside him. McDonnell said he’s been a lifelong Democrat, but now he’s a bigger Democrat, bigger than ever.

“This makes a big difference to me after all these years,” McDonnell said. “There has to be changes made. This is crazy. I guess we all thought The Donald was going to do it, straighten out the mess, get them in line, but there’s more fighting than ever before.”

Rhonda McMahon said she’s tired of corruption and sleazy behavior. She instantly cited former Illinois Democratic governor Rob Blagojevich to show that she watches both sides equally.

Blagojevich was sentenced to federal prison for soliciting bribes in exchange for political appointments, including Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, vacated after Obama became president in 2008.

“If I saw a Republican following the rule of law I would vote for them,” McMahon said. “(Blagojevich) was a crook, and I hate to use the word ‘unprecedented,’ but what we’re seeing happening now is unprecedented.”

Perceived foul play aside, the anti-Trumpers cited several things that caused some eye-rolling on this morning.

They don’t like school vouchers. They think Trump is out for the rich more than any other socio-economic group. They don’t like his treatment of women. They don’t think he cares about the elderly or the disabled or the middle class. And they simply don’t like him “because he’s a megalomaniac and he should be gone,” said 81-year-old Democrat Sandra Sackett.

Democrat Dianne Schuett, an incumbent running for the State House, stood outside the school holding a campaign sign. She said she’s liberal on social issues. She called herself a progressive, but showed an independent streak, saying she’s a fiscal conservative who respected John McCain and who favors the death penalty because her husband was in law enforcement. He was killed in a car crash 25 years ago.

“My heart is still with law enforcement,” Schuett told me.

Her heart, though, is not with Trump. Schuett thought more left-leaning voters – call them Democrats, liberals, progressives, whatever – might come to the polls simply because of who lives in the White House.

“Yes, I kind of think so myself,” she said. “We’re hoping that the blue wave they’ve been talking about is going to happen.”

Not if Marian Zanoni can help it. She thinks voters on both sides will be more visible because of Trump, saying “If you’re a Democrat it seems like you’re even more of a Democrat, and if you’re on the Republican side, more Republicans are waking up and getting more involved, and I think that’s a good thing.”

In other words, Zanoni voted for Trump, and she wants you to know that she’s a level-headed citizen. That’s why she voted for JFK. That’s why she loved former Govs. John Lynch and Jeanne Shaheen.

And it’s why she loves Trump. Zanoni thought the country was ripe for a businessman, not a politician. Sure, as a religious woman, she’d like the president to portray more of a God-fearing persona.

But Zanoni’s husband served in the Army in the 1950s and her stepfather landed in France on D-Day in 1944. That’s why she voted for Trump.

“My heart hurts sometimes for our veterans because they don’t get the attention or care that they need,” Zanoni said. “But I’m seeing great improvements in this area in recent years.”

Her daughter, Michelle Gosselin, also had good things to say about the president. She said Trump has made the Republican party stronger. She said the Democrats have no central platform and don’t stand for anything. And her husband was an officer in the National Guard.

So when Trump ran for president in 2016, it piqued her interest in politics. More than usual.

“Trump has helped (veterans) rather than hurt them,” Gosselin said. “That stuff means something to us.”

Meanwhile, have you noticed that the other presidential candidate in 2016 is creating a loud buzz herself, perhaps louder than any loser in history?

This bothers Trump supporters. They’ve heard enough about her.

“I’m tired of still hearing about Hillary Clinton,” Bower said. “It’s done, it’s old news. If you don’t like it, next time you can vote a different way.”