Midterm Elections Divide New Jersey Voters

Voters in northern New Jersey have mixed feelings about the upcoming elections. But one thing is clear: some are paying closer attention than others. Key issues include the price of gas and the war in Iraq.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Elections can be humbling. For a day, all the experts in pols have to hold their breath until millions of people who sell shoes, clean streets or park cars have had their say. Voters can bedevil experts by expressing what seem to be opposing views. We went into north central New Jersey this week to try to hear what's on the minds of people as they prepare to vote, or not. We found people who supported the war in Iraq but want to bring the soldiers home now. We met people opposed to the war who worry about bringing the soldiers back too quickly. We met immigrants irritated by illegal immigration and people who worry about global warming, but want to drill in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge to bring down the cost of gas.

There was a group of men at lunch at the Jersey Boys Bagel Shop in Morristown, where they offer a grilled American cheese on white bread called the Bruce Springsteen Special. Ken said he cares most about...

KEN (New Jersey Resident): The price of gasoline, the war in Iraq, and the fact that my homeowner's insurance in Florida has gone up like double in the past year.

SIMON: You said the war in Iraq. What are your concerns about that?

KEN: It's gone on too long and it seems to be going in the wrong direction.

SIMON: Did you accept or support the war three years ago?

KEN: Yes, I did. And maybe my views are starting to change a little bit.

SIMON: His friend Craig also supported the war.

CRAIG (New Jersey Resident): Oh, definitely. Yes, definitely. I still do support every last one of them that are fighting.

SIMON: Morristown is a quaint-looking commuter suburb, a train-ride away from midtown Manhattan that makes much of the fact that General George Washington twice made his headquarters here. Dover is an industrial town nearby where the street signs sell routes evadores(ph), not George and Martha's muffins. It can be rare to overhear English in the shop on Blackwell Street that sells strong café(ph) and bright pink pastelis(ph). Lola drives a bus for New Jersey Transit and says her biggest concerns are...

LOLA (Bus Driver): Taxes. Bush out. Bush has to go out, and Republican have to go, have to go. Republicans are for rich people. I'm poor.

SIMON: What do you want the Democrats to do if they get more power?

LOLA: Iraq. Finish Iraq and cut taxes. Taxes and taxes. And immigrants out.

SIMON: You might have picked the wrong place to say that. What's the immigration problem, as far as you're concerned?

LOLA: They've taken over everything. They've taken my husband's job, because they will work for less money.

SIMON: Lola, by the way, is from Spain, not Latin America. Wilson Vasquez, who came to the United States 20 years ago from Columbia, runs a restaurant in Dover. In his quiet, meticulous house, decorated with pumpkins and hobgoblins, he told us he's disappointed Congress didn't pass immigration reform.

Mr. WILSON VASQUEZ (Restaurant Owner): Dover has a lot of immigrants here so I hear all of them like talking. They want to get a driver's license so they can get to work. They want to do a lot of things, but they cannot do anything. Every day it's getting worse for them.

SIMON: The American politicians he has admired most?

Mr. VASQUEZ: Reagan. Reagan was good for immigrants, and I think Jimmy Carter was good. I mean, he's involved in a lot of Latino countries helping with a lot of things.

SIMON: Now, we were in New Jersey just before the State Supreme Court delivered its decision on gay marriage, so no one mentioned that as an issue to us. It is hard for any national scandal to very much impress people in New Jersey. The political corruption issue which plagues the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress may just look different in this state, where several prominent Democrats have been under indictment or investigation. Even the scandal over former Congressman Mark Foley's instant messages to young pages may appear humdrum in a state where former Governor James McGreevey had to resign for appointing his lover to a cabinet post. We met a man named Jim just as he left a contribution at Republican headquarters in Morristown.

JIM (New Jersey Resident): We're in a battle. We're in a - we're in the war zone right here where we stand, believe it or not. And I think it's serious business. And I pray for the president every morning, every night, for him and his cabinet, and hope they persevere, and I hope their courage stays straight.

SIMON: What are the issues that most concern you?

JIM: Number one is safety. I don't want to see what happened in New York happen in Morristown.

SIMON: At Scotty's Music Store in Morristown they sell a lot less music and a lot more t-shirts and buttons these days, which can't be downloaded. The young manager, Joe, is a student who's interested in issues, especially immigration, but he hasn't downloaded this year's campaign into his personal play list.

JOE (New Jersey Resident): I can't say that I've really followed much about it. A lot of politics I don't normally follow between taking, you know, 12, 15 credits, working - running this store, you know, four days a week - I don't really have much time to follow it. It's things that I think that I see in my day-to-day life that probably would concern me most, you know, lead me to choosing one over the other.

JOE: Well, you've got a few days.

SCOTT: Yeah.

SIMON: To make your decision.

JOE: Well, I don't have class tonight, so...

SIMON: Fred Lesser(ph) is a tax consultant from Matawan who says that the war in Iraq, which he has supported, is the issue which now worries him most.

Mr. FRED LESSER (Tax Consultant): The time has come that we start to insist that the Iraqis start taking ownership for their country's security. It doesn't take much to figure out that this is not a war that we can - we could afford to stay in. Having been in the Vietnam War myself and not - it's very, very difficult for parents have children being sent in harms way when there's no political resolution which I think has to take place before this thing can be settled.

SIMON: What music are you looking at here?

Mr. LESSER: Sinatra.

SIMON: Oh my gosh. New Jersey's own.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Potential voters, or non voters, speaking this week in north central New Jersey.

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