N.H. Female Voters Weigh In On Primary Issues

Six women in Derry, N.H., are among the voters who expect to take part in the nation's first presidential primary Tuesday. Elaine Sweeney hosted the group, and they discussed the issues and the candidates on their minds.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Presidential candidates are making their appeals in events all over New Hampshire. But if you want to know what voters are thinking, it's better to drop by somebody's house, for a cup of coffee. Or, something stronger.

Hey, how are you?

SAMANTHA BOUDREAU: Hi, I'm Samantha Boudreau.

INSKEEP: Hi Samantha. I'm Steve.

BOUDREAU: Nice to meet you.

INSKEEP: Hi.

JEAN BELL: Jean Bell.

INSKEEP: Hi, Jean. Thanks for joining us. I really appreciate it.

ELAINE SWEENEY: Oh, 'cause I've got donuts and everything. We've got cheese and crackers and wine. You guys are good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SWEENEY: See, I've got donuts and coffee. So we have a choice. What would you like? We have some wine. Would you like some wine?

INSKEEP: That's Elaine Sweeney, our host on an overcast day.

SWEENEY: I think I'm going to have donuts with mine. I'm having donuts with my wine.

INSKEEP: Her house in Derry, New Hampshire overlooks Beaver Lake, covered this time of year with a thin film of ice. We sit by a bank of windows with six New Hampshire women, all planning to vote in Tuesday's primary. We set the coffee, wine and donuts on a white lace tablecloth and talk politics.

SWEENEY: I want to know what everybody felt about that debate last night. See, I got very upset...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All the dumb questions, you mean?

SWEENEY: Well, beyond the dumb questions...

INSKEEP: Several of the women have been attending debate parties and candidate events. Linda Dupere has repeatedly attended protest rallies.

LINDA DUPERE: I'm a Tea Partier. I have been since 2009. I've been to Washington four times. My husband and I, we want to see elected officials who are going to get in there and change big government.

INSKEEP: All the women feel some connection to the issues dominating this election. Samantha Boudreau is 21 years old and studying to be a pharmacist.

BOUDREAU: Job creation I think is a big issue. And in New Hampshire I think we've been doing pretty well in the past few months creating jobs. But being a student, I will be graduating next May and I'm going to have significant student loans to pay off, so getting a job is very important.

INSKEEP: I don't mean to jump right off with a personal question, when you say significant student loans, about how much?

BOUDREAU: It's going to be over $140,000.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, my god.

INSKEEP: So she's thinking about whether a job will be waiting when she graduates. These women range from students to retirees, and it's easy to hear the high expectations they will have for whoever wins this election. They want to cut back on federal spending, but at the same time, several collect Social Security and Medicare, and they don't want future generations to live worse than they did.

Then there's Traci Homol, the mother of a five and a seven year old. She's worried about federal deficits and debt.

TRACI HOMOL: We cannot afford Obamacare. This country absolutely cannot afford Obamacare, and what this election comes down to is are you going to vote for an entitlement society that's going to end up like Europe, broke with everybody going, oh, I'm not getting my stuff, or are you going to be a self-reliant society where everybody goes, OK, we've got to buckle down, we've got to tighten the belt and we've got to move forward. That's what I'm looking for. That's why I want Perry. And if it's not going to be Perry, then I'll go with whoever is the Republican nominee.

INSKEEP: Well, let me just...

BOUDREAU: Can we afford not to do anything about health care?

HOMOL: Yes.

BOUDREAU: I mean health care costs in the United States are twice as expensive as they are anywhere else in the world.

INSKEEP: The woman jumping in there is Samantha Boudreau, the pharmacy student, who even at this fairly conservative table is not afraid to say she voted for President Obama in 2008. Boudreau still likes Obama, but New Hampshire residents can vote in either primary, and she's backing Jon Huntsman in the Republican primary on Tuesday.

Independent voters like her can be a factor here. Many independents are backing Ron Paul, though when we name each candidate and ask our voters what words come to mind, Paul doesn't do well with this particular group.

HOMOL: Ineffective.

BOUDREAU: Scary.

DUPERE: Mmm, frightening.

SWEENEY: Fanatical.

INSKEEP: Other strong responses come for Newt Gingrich - people in our group come up with words ranging from brilliant to over the top. Mitt Romney gets everything from smart and organized to leadership to not trustworthy. Gail Gorham is dismayed that Romney is starting to seem like the inevitable nominee.

GAIL GORHAM: Yeah, I think he's going to make it, and I think he's going to beat Obama too. But it's not my choice, but I'm sure - it's a machine. There's nothing we can do about it. He's got such a lot of money, a lot more money than anybody else there, and he's - I mean I get three or four or five things I got in the mail yesterday from, you know, postcards and he's going to be here and he's going to - but we've gone to a lot of them, you know, but...

INSKEEP: A disagreement develops in our talk. On one side is Linda Dupere, who's a Gingrich fan. She thinks of Romney as a flip-flopper. On the other is Elaine Sweeney, our host, who dismisses Gingrich and comes to Romney's defense.

SWEENEY: With Romney, I see somebody that looks like a leader, acts like a leader, talks like a leader, and it's like the duck, you know?

DUPERE: We are in desperate need of a leader.

SWEENEY: Right. You're going to get people that are going to rally behind that man.

INSKEEP: Does it bother you that you can watch videotape of Romney talking 10 years ago, or 12 years ago and he seems to have the opposite position?

SWEENEY: No, it doesn't bother me at all because I changed - I've changed over this time. If you don't change with the times, then what good are you? You have to change with the times.

DUPERE: But there are solid values that you should not change on. I believe that.

SWEENEY: That's true.

DUPERE: And when he implemented Romneycare in Massachusetts with a Planned Parenthood in that, Mitt Romney was for abortions and that is one thing that really bothers me.

SWEENEY: But he's not now, is he? Well, he's flip-flopping.

DUPERE: But yeah, he's flip-flopped.

SWEENEY: What's wrong with changing your mind?

DUPERE: But that's a value you don't change on, and you should not change on...

SWEENEY: What you're saying...

DUPERE: Once you did it, you can never get it back.

SWEENEY: Are you saying - you keep saying that. How about Newt? You don't think he's changed his values about marriage, infidelity and trustworthy?

DUPERE: Yeah, but not about - not about abortion. He's always been anti...

SWEENEY: Oh my God.

DUPERE: ...against abortion.

SWEENEY: So, OK, so he's against abortion, but he's not against cheating and stealing...

DUPERE: But so what makes you think Romney wouldn't do that again when he gets in? What makes you - see he wanted his health care plan passed...

INSKEEP: As our conversation continues, one more voter has been sitting at the end of the table, mostly quiet.

I think I know who everybody is supporting almost. Jean, I think I didn't hear from you who you're supporting. Who did...

DUPERE: Pretty quiet over here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BELL: I've been taking it all in, right?

INSKEEP: Do you know who you're voting for?

BELL: Undecided.

INSKEEP: You're undecided?

As the voting nears, Jean Bell has been leaning more towards Mitt Romney, the man she expects to win, though other women at the table are urging her to come by at least one more campaign event before Tuesday.

DUPERE: None of the other candidates run - do a town hall like Newt does.

INSKEEP: Six women in Derry, New Hampshire, among the voters who expect to take part in the nation's first presidential primary tomorrow.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's now have a look at the story some of the latest polls in New Hampshire are telling. A poll by the University of New Hampshire and WMUR shows Mitt Romney leading with 41 percent, with Ron Paul in second place with 17 percent and Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum tied for third, each with 11 percent.

A Suffolk University poll puts Romney on top with a commanding lead, with Paul again behind him, Huntsman in third and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum rounding out the top five. Rick Perry is at the bottom in both of those polls.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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