N.H. Voters Discuss The GOP Field

Four years ago, Melissa Block traveled several times to Milford, N.H., to talk with voters. Friday, she talks to two of the people she met there: Noreen O'Connell and Steve O'Keefe. They discuss the current GOP presidential field.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Four years ago, in the run-up to the primary, I spent quite a bit of time reporting from the southern New Hampshire town of Milford. I got to know some of the voters there. And today, we're joined, again, by two of them. First, Noreen O'Connell. And, Noreen, back in 2008, you were chair of the Milford Board of Selectmen. I gather, now, you are not doing that anymore. You're fully devoted to life on your farm.

NOREEN O'CONNELL: Yes and enjoying every minute.

BLOCK: Enjoying every minute of it, great. And it's good to talk to you again. Steve O'Keefe, what about you? You work across the border in Massachusetts, a financial planner for Fidelity and a registered Republican.

STEVE O'KEEFE: That's correct.

BLOCK: OK. I will play a little bit of tape from January 2008, right before the New Hampshire primary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

O'KEEFE: You know, somebody can just really impress me over the next day, and you know, maybe John McCain is going to knock on my door. That, obviously, could stray me one way. But, you know, to be honest with you right now, it's definitely for Mitt.

BLOCK: You never know, it's New Hampshire.

O'KEEFE: You absolutely are correct. You never know.

BLOCK: You never know. And, Steve, you have flirted actually with Mike Huckabee for a while there, too.

O'KEEFE: I actually did.

BLOCK: And how did you end up voting in 2008 in the primary?

O'KEEFE: Ended up voting for Mitt Romney, believe it or not. You know, this time, you know, I'm still on the fence. Some things haven't changed over four years.

BLOCK: Really? Well, what are you thinking as you look at the field?

O'KEEFE: Well, two people impress me. I'm really impressed by Jon Huntsman. I've actually met the gentleman twice. He has been sort of the underdog in this particular race, not really seen across the country as we've seen him in New Hampshire. Mitt Romney, of course, you know, I definitely really truly believe that he's got a great economic plan, and I think that's what this country really needs.

BLOCK: Let me turn back to Noreen O'Connell. Noreen, when we talked in 2008, you described yourself as painfully independent...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: ...and don't actually always vote GOP in the primary. You sometimes vote for a Democrat. What about this time around?

O'CONNELL: I'm still undeclared, and I had leanings towards Huntsman until he came out with his pro-life statement, and I'm just finding most of their comments extremely hypocritical.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. And what do you think you're going to do on primary day?

O'CONNELL: I haven't decided. I'm working at the polls, so I'll certainly have time to vote. But I'm in a quandary. I really am. I'm finding it very hypocritical that they want to stay out of our lives, our plans, our pocketbooks, and then, they turn around and jump with both feet into our personal lives.

BLOCK: Noreen, how did you end up voting in 2008, both in the primary and then in the general election in November?

O'CONNELL: General election, I voted for Obama. In the primary, I voted for Romney.

BLOCK: You know, I'm curious. For both of you, as you drive around Milford and around New Hampshire, if you're looking for any indication through lawn signs or the conversations at the coffee shops, what are you hearing? Do you get a sense of who's really generating excitement? Steve, what about you?

O'KEEFE: You know, I think Mitt Romney, of course, because of the connection to Massachusetts being right over the border, within, you know, 10 miles. The other people that are mentioned are - I don't want to call them fly-by-night candidates, but people that have come to the forefront and then have quickly fallen back, like Newt Gingrich for a perfect example.

BLOCK: And, Noreen, what are you hearing from your friends and around town?

O'CONNELL: Well, it's actually kind of boring. If you drive around town, there are almost no signs out there...

BLOCK: Really?

O'CONNELL: ...which is unheard of.

BLOCK: There's a whole lot of campaign fatigue after the Iowa caucuses out there. Are you feeling much the same, inundated by literature and phone calls and just will be happy to have the whole thing over with?

O'KEEFE: You know, I think Ms. O'Connell hit the nail on the head. I don't think this particular campaign is as exciting as 2008. I believe the Republican Party really needs to come up with a strategy to create some excitement out there about their frontrunners. And right now, that's just not happening.

BLOCK: Steve, you mentioned you had met Jon Huntsman a couple of times, been to a couple of his events. Noreen, what about you? Have you seen any of the candidates up close and personal?

O'CONNELL: No. I've spoken to a number of people on the phone, but I'm really backing off on this election.

BLOCK: Noreen, can you remember another time when you felt as disengaged from politics as you seem to feel right now?

O'CONNELL: No. No. I've always been very engaged, obviously, in politics. But I just find, right now, especially in New Hampshire, the Republican Party very mean-spirited, and it's really turning me off.

BLOCK: Milford is a pretty small town. Steve and Noreen, do you know each other independent of these pieces on NPR?

STEVE O'KEEFE: We do. Mr. O'Connell was a science teacher of mine in high school and Mrs. O'Connell was a dental hygienist at my dentist and my father actually has used them as a source of expertise with his flower garden.

BLOCK: And I gather, Noreen, even though you may not be voting on Tuesday, you are going to be working at the polls. Chances are you might be seeing Steve O'Keefe coming in to cast his vote.

NOREEN O'CONNELL: I'll keep my eye out.

BLOCK: Well, Noreen O'Connell and Steve O'Keefe from Milford, New Hampshire, thanks to you both and enjoy the run up the primary.

O'CONNELL: Bye, now.

O'KEEFE: Great. Thank you.

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