With N.H. primary nearly here, plenty of undecided voters still up for grabs

  • Jim Normand of Manchester is not set on a candidate yet as he speaks at the Our Rights Our Courts presidential forum at NHTI on Saturday morning, February 8, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • The Merin family, son James (left), daughter Catherine (center) and mother Patricia watch presidential candidate Michael Bennet from the back of the NHTI Wellness Center gymnasium at the Saturday morning event Our Rights Our Courts presidential forum.

  • Kristen Hatton of Concord talks about the candidates as Michael Bennet speaks on video in the backgroud at the NHTI Wellness Center for the “Our Rights, Our Courts” event on Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Janet Scribner of Concord wonders who she is going to vote for as candidate Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd on the video screen at the Our Rights Our Courts presidential forum on Saturday morning, February 8, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor columnist
Published: 2/9/2020 6:44:02 PM

When you’re waiting to cast your vote in the Democratic Primary on Tuesday, you may notice people looking unsure of themselves.

You might see James Mernin of Concord and his mother, Patricia Mernin. Or maybe you’ll notice Kristen Hatton or Janet Scribner, both of Concord, or a Manchester attorney named Jim Normand.

They don’t know what they’re going to do once the curtain closes. Even at this late date. They saw half of the candidates at an abortion rights rally Saturday at New Hampshire Technical Institute in one of the final showcases before voting day.

And still, they’re not sure.

“I want to sit and think about it for a little bit more,” Scribner said.

Choosing the Democratic nominee for president appears to be more difficult than in year’s past.

In fact, if the voter voices heard at NHTI – where heavyweights Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar took turns explaining themselves live on stage – are any indication, you’re likely to see more undecided voters at the polls, squinting in thought, listening to others in line, sorting out policies and who’s attached to them.

Saturday was a Democratic love-fest, with pro-choice discussions, lots of progressive ideas, even a cardboard cutout of liberal Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Voters had their picture taken with her.

They were psyched by that. They were more cautious when talk of this election surfaced. There’s a lot at stake for the Dems. They’re excited about what they see as a superstar lineup, filled with candidates who can go toe-to-toe with President Donald Trump.

Translation: these voters combined enthusiasm – Sanders, in particular, has supporters who make Dead Heads seem disloyal – with fear as the general election looms large in November.

They’re afraid of Trump. And the clock is ticking.

“I’ll know who I’m voting for when I wake up Tuesday morning,” Scribner said.

She worked security at NHTI. She dressed in all black, her hands clasped behind her back, a big TV airing Bernie’s turn at the microphone, in a room just 20 yards from our chat. And while she’s undecided, Scribner explained what she’s looking for.

“I’ll be honest with you,” she said. “I’m leaning toward the candidates who have more experience in office. That’s my big focus.”

Joe Biden? Once our vice president?

“Not necessarily,” Scribner said. She likes Sanders, who she says represents a candidate with a genuine concern for people, and Warren, “because she’s tough.”

Hatton, a nurse practitioner, shifted her focus back and forth, keeping an eye on her young son, Miles, while talking politics with me.

“I have not decided,” she said, “and I know it’s getting late.”

Hatton believes she can learn more about the candidates’ platforms, even now, after months and years of this political marathon.

“I really do think I will learn something,” Hatton said. “The debate (Friday) night was really helpful, and this is really helpful being here today.”

She’s leaning toward Mayor Pete or Klobuchar. As with others with whom I spoke, though, Hatton’s concern, her indecision, stems from the stress she feels over picking the wrong candidate. The one who, it might turn out, loses to Trump.

“I really think it’s important for us to get out and vote and learn about the issues,” Hatton told me. “It’s important that we get out and do whatever we can do to get our current president out of office.”

Normand, who at 66 can finally ski for free at Cannon Mountain, was a representative in the state legislature in the 1970s. He’s been known to have an open mind, once keeping it open until he got in line four years ago to vote and someone told him what Sanders could bring to the table. So, right there and then, Normand changed his vote, from Hillary Clinton to Sanders.

That could happen again.

“I don’t even have a candidate,” Normand said. “I’m not sure I see a candidate here that can bring us all together. We have great candidates with great ideas, but who is going to be able to take on Trump, and who is going to be able to bring Americans together?”

Two-thirds of the Mernin family aren’t sure who that is yet. Only Catherine Mernin, 24, had made up her mind. Warren.

“She’s a former teacher and she knows how to explain things well,” Catherine said. “She takes complicated stuff and makes it understandable.”

Catherine knew her choice early, saying she decided after the very first debate.

“She’s ironclad; this has been her choice for a while,” confirmed James, her 27-year-old brother, a software designer.

Then he looked directly at Catherine and said, “I don’t expect you to change it.”

We sat at a circular table near a fireplace and big TV screens showing the candidates in the next room. Campaign staffers from Washington, D.C., hurried about, always moving with purpose.

James fit the pattern discovered at NHTI. “I keep fluctuating,” he said. “I’m leaning towards Bernie right now. But I have a feeling I’m not going to know for sure until I’m right there with the ballot. I just want to keep an open mind. I’m very close to deciding, and it might be this weekend.”

The siblings’ mother, Patricia, sat down and said, “This probably is the first primary where I haven’t really known 100 percent going in. I can be persuaded still.”

Why? For the same reason as the others I met. So many good candidates. So important, more than ever, to win.

“My main reason I’m undecided – and they’re all good candidates – is because this is an election that is so incredibly important,” Patricia said. “Donald Trump must be defeated.”

Soon, very soon, we’ll know whom the Granite State chose. Trump’s supporters can rival any other voters in any other campaign when it comes to passion and loyalty. They’re confident their man can win. Will win.

The Democrats? Not so much. To the point that they’re having trouble making a decision. You can hear the apprehension in their words.

“This whole agenda for today?” Normand said. “That goes down the toilet if we don’t elect a president. So we need to elect a president.”

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