REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
President George Bush is one of the least popular presidents since anyone began keeping track. In New Hampshire, his overall approval rating is down to a 24 percent according to the latest Granite State Poll and almost half of the Republicans in that state thinks he's doing a poor job.
Today we check in with Republican voters in Exeter, New Hampshire. We are following the residents of that tab through out the primary season. New Hampshire Public Radio's Jon Greenberg wanted to learn how disenchantment with President Bush affects how these voters size up their presidential options.
JON GREENBERG: Talking to republican voters teaches you to be careful about how you interpret surveys. It's true that President Bush gets failing grades form the great majority of New Hampshire voters, but when a Democrat says he disapproves of the way the president is handling his job, it means something very different than when a Republican says the same thing.
Ms. MARY ANN BRADY(ph) (Resident, New Hampshire): These days, when Bush speaks, I'm scared to death for what he is going to say.
GREENBERG: We caught up with Mary Ann and Dennis(ph) Brady right after they had seen Republican Mitt Romney speak at the Exeter Town Hall. They agreed with Romney's implied criticism of Bush that the president had surrounded himself with yes-men. Marry Ann and Dennis voted for Bush twice and worked on his campaign. Dennis says they still like what he stands for, but see him as a victim of bad advice.
Mr. DENNIS BRADY(ph) (Resident, New Hampshire): I think he does have good values and he's a good person. And, you know, he didn't have a good balance in the people he was listening to and they took him down the wrong path - the wrong path for him, the wrong path for the country.
GREENE: By wrong path, Dennis means the way the president has managed the Iraq war. But unlike many Democrats, neither he nor Mary Ann feel that Bush lied to or intentionally mislead the American people. They're lifelong Republicans and they're comfortable with the choices they face among the GOP contenders. The lesson they draw from Bush is the country needs someone who's a more skilled executive to advance the Republican agenda. The past seven years have not left all Exeter Republicans so confident in their beliefs - a trust hole of Republican leadership.
On one of the main roads radiating out of downtown Exeter, there's a large white farmhouse.
Mr. PETER SMITH(ph) (Resident, Exeter, New Hampshire): That was built by my great, great grandfather in grounds(ph) - we're not sure. Front print shows up in an 1802 map.
GREENE: Peter Smith, a retired school teacher can trace his family's roots in Exeter back to the 1650s. He jokes, I haven't gone very far.
His political leadings used to be equally reliable. He voted for Bush in 2000 and again in 2004. Now he says his disillusioned.
Mr. SMITH: You know, it's like hearing a person campaign for the first time in New Hampshire, and he has all kinds of great ideas, and he gets elected, and he gets into Washington, and within a couple of years, he's a carbon copy of everybody else.
GREENBERG: Peter feels that people in Washington have forgotten the needs of ordinary people and Bush is no different. He's tired of the influence of lobbyists and no longer identifies as purely as he once did with core Republican ideas.
We first crossed paths with Peter at a house party for Democratic candidate John Edwards, but Peter is weary of both parties.
Mr. SMITH: I'm almost waiting for a third party to come marching down the streets.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SMITH: How is that? Who'll stick to guns, who'll look to the future, who'll solve the problems and get us out of the mess that has been created by the other two.
GREENBERG: The dream that someone extraordinary, some incredibly competent outsider will appear on the scene, is powerful. But those that dream it are evenly more likely to feel that their actual choices fall far short.
Ms. LAURIE KELLY(ph) (Resident, Exeter, New Hampshire): I really like to see somebody who just step up and take charge and get something done. But I'm getting so cynical now. I don't know if that's going to happen.
GREENBERG: Laurie Kelly has three children, the youngest is a senior at Exeter High School. She comes from a solidly Republican family. Her grandfather was a friend of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Her father is a Republican activist and fundraiser. But while she voted for Bush twice, she doesn't like him.
Ms. KELLY: I feel like a traitor, you know, this major Republican upbringing.
GREENBERG: Laurie gives Bush failing grades on many fronts: the inability to rebuild New Orleans, pork-laden spending bills, and above all, the Iraq war, which she thinks should never have taken place. Her youngest son is interested in the military and she says Iraq is no war worth putting his life at risk.
Asked which candidates, Republican or Democratic, would be most likely to resolve the conflict, Laurie answers reluctantly.
Ms. KELLY: I hate to say this but I'm almost thinking the Democrats will because they'd be more open to figure out what's right rather than the Republicans saying no, we got to stay there. This is what we're doing. I mean, that's what I read in the paper today. They're just - they're all for it.
GREENBERG: Certainly not every Republican is in turmoil. But at the very least, the unpopularity of George Bush has sapped the energy of many GOP voters here in Exeter, New Hampshire.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Greenberg.
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