N.H. Voters Contemplate 2012 Presidential Election

People in New Hampshire take their role in presidential politics seriously. Their state has the first primary in the country — just after Iowa's caucuses. Monday evening, Republican presidential hopefuls debated each other. The next day, voters in the state were ready to talk about the 2012 election.

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Republican presidential candidates are just beginning to get the attention of voters in New Hampshire. The first state to hold a primary has disproportionate influence over the nomination, which explains why the contenders held a debate in New Hampshire this week, months before the primary vote. NPR's Ari Shapiro has been asking what the state's votes are thinking.

ARI SHAPIRO: Hollis, New Hampshire, is the kind of town where a college professor can be a farmer on the weekends.

SKIP HAYETTE (Professor): There's three reasons I teach: June, July and August.

SHAPIRO: Skip Hayette teaches liberal arts and ALSO sells eggs from his chicken flock. In his front yard, baskets of strawberries go for a buck fifty.

Mr. HAYETTE: Up there on the chicken coop, that's Brownie.

SHAPIRO: Brownie the goat.

Mr. HAYETTE: A dwarf Nigerian goat. And the chunky guy is Gomer.

SHAPIRO: Gomer's the fatter of the two goats.

Mr. HAYETTE: Yeah, he looks like a bowl of jelly when he runs.

SHAPIRO: It's a good life. But Hayette fears his students may not have it so good.

Mr. HAYETTE: I've been teaching college a long time. Students are graduating. There's no jobs. They're moving back home.

SHAPIRO: And after two years of Democratic control of the White House, Hayette is curious to see what ideas the Republicans have.

Mr. HAYETTE: New Hampshire's a pragmatic state. Does it work? If it doesn't work, give someone else a shot. That's all. You know, nothing against you. It didn't work. It's not that you're a failure, just that we have to try something else. That's all.

SHAPIRO: Like many of the people I spoke with in Hollis, he's paying more attention to the issues than the candidates. Primary voting is seven months away, and most of the presidential hopefuls are still strangers here.

People who watched the debate on TV this week generally admitted to me that they flipped back and forth to watch the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals.

(Soundbite of rooster crowing)

Down the road, David Ord has spent 30 years running Lull farm. He built it up from a small orchard to hundreds of acres today. There are vegetables, rabbits, chickens, cattle.

Mr. DAVID ORD (Lull Farm): If it grows in New England, we try to grow it.

SHAPIRO: Basically this would be a good place to hunker down if the apocalypse hits. His customer Dennis Soprano is a retiree buying plants for the yard. He's lived in Hollis for forty years.

Mr. DENNIS SOPRANO: Neighbor just got laid off, next door neighbor down the street got laid off, and a friend of mine hasn't been able to find a job in four years. And he's an engineer.

SHAPIRO: This is a state where independent voters rule. And for Soprano, that means he's equally disgusted with people in both parties.

Mr. SOPRANO: During the elections, everybody is giving you all the buzzwords. So my biggest thing is if you're going to do something for the American people, do it for the American people. Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, you're still an American.

SHAPIRO: Just around the corner, the you-pick strawberry season is in high gear at Brookdale Farm. Richard Hardy has a positive economic forecast for his operation.

Mr. RICHARD HARDY (Brookdale Farm): Strawberries are coming in great, cherries probably in another week or so. And then we go on for blueberries and all kinds of vegetables and other fruits.

SHAPIRO: His forecast for the country is a bit cloudier. The cost of health care worries him, and he's afraid that President Obama's law will make it worse. He's worried about the debt, too.

Mr. HARDY: We have to get the country back on track. It doesn't matter which party it is, but we're spending way too much money and it's money that our children aren't even going to be able to pay back if they continue on at the present rate.

SHAPIRO: Out in the fields, Kelly Ducharm's two older kids are looking for the ripest berries hiding under the leaves. The youngest, a newborn, is crying in her arms.

Ms. KELLY DUCHARM: I'm a nurse and my husband is self-employed and our health insurance is through the roof. And I think that we need to kind of make it more affordable. It's not a luxury, it's a necessity.

SHAPIRO: President Obama says implementing his health care law will solve that problem. The Republicans in this week's presidential debate all agreed that repeal is the answer. Kelly Ducharm says she'll figure out who to believe when we get a little closer to the elections.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.

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