New Hampshire GOP Looks Anew at Candidates
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
There was a Democratic dust-up at the debate last Tuesday night. The party's presidential contenders sharpen their differences with and their attacks on Hillary Clinton. Democratic voters now have two months or so to answer the question, is she inevitable or unelectable?
Republican voters are paying more attention to their candidates too. That's especially true in the state with the first primary - New Hampshire. We've been following the town of Exeter for several months.
Today, New Hampshire Public Radio's Jon Greenberg reports that the GOP faithful are observing the success of Rudy Giuliani and deciding what that means for their party.
JON GREENBERG: Take your typical backyard compost heap, scale it up by about a factor of a thousand or maybe ten thousand, and you'll have an idea of how Bob Kelly makes a living.
Mr. BOB KELLY (Businessman): We are in the business of producing an organic topsoil and garden product. We have two products.
GREENBERG: We stand in the middle of Bob's dirt farm, a large open area with nine or ten-towering cones of rich brown loam. Two huge front-end loaders tend the piles constantly, digging in and turning the dirt, sending up clouds of smoke from the decaying organic matter.
Several months ago, Bob thought Mitt Romney was a pretty interesting candidate. He liked his business background that he didn't come out of the Washington political culture. But some things began to rub him the wrong way.
Mr. KELLY: Instead of being a worker-bee businessman, he's more of a CEO businessman, and so you never quite know what his angle is. I'm a CEO but I have a fairly small company. I'd like somebody to be able talk to me, who at least can make me feel like they understand what my issues are.
GREENBERG: In contrast, there was Rudy Giuliani.
Mr. KELLY: I think Rudy Giuliani, for one, has been able to dial himself down to the every man's level and connect. And maybe that's superficial, I don't know. It's hard to tell anymore what someone's real platform is because a lot of them change so often so you have to, in some regards, go on and feel.
GREENBERG: When Giuliani spoke at Exeter's town hall, a writer on a local blog created for the primary labeled him Uncle Rudy and talked about his, quote, "common sense wisdom."
But for some Exeter Republicans, the telling quality about Giuliani isn't his street savvy. It's his relatively moderate positions on abortions and civil unions that may not go over well among the more socially conservative voters in, say, Iowa or South Carolina.
But here in New Hampshire, that's a good fit with Republicans who like to keep government out of people's personal lives. And as for social conservatives in Exeter, well, they might surprise you.
Joe Klempa is a 45-year-old systems engineer at a nuclear power plant, who describes himself as a pro-life Catholic. If the election were held today, Joe says, he would choose the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee.
Mr. JOE KLEMPA (Systems Engineer, Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant): I think he's morally there. He can't be challenged like Giuliani could be with his personal life, and he's not going to be challenged on a lot of the issues that Giuliani and even Romney say with the waffling and stuff like that.
GREENBERG: But what if Giuliani won the nomination? Joe would vote for him. He fears that talk by religious conservatives about sitting out the election or backing a third-party candidate would cost Republicans the White House.
Mr. KLEMPA: If it divides a lot of the religious right or the gun-control folks that it would be disastrous for the Republicans. It would basically result in the Democrat getting elected.
GREENBERG: Joe isn't the only Exeter Republican with such fears.
(Soundbite of people talking)
GREENBERG: Chris Moutis owns the Townlyne Grill, a trendy restaurant located, appropriately enough, on Exeter's town line. A Giuliani supporter, he feels that if Giuliani is the nominee, the religious conservatives have no right to complain.
Mr. CHRIS MOUTIS (Owner, Townlyne Grill): I've sucked it up and voted for people that on the social side of issues I don't agree with at all. And now, if it turns out this way regarding social conservatives in this particular election and they have to suck it up, they have to sit down and suck it up.
GREENBERG: Such feelings might be heartfelt, but it's hard to find a single Republican who is considering staying home if Giuliani is the nominee.
(Soundbite of crowd)
GREENBERG: On this night, members of the fundamentalist congregation The Father's Family Church of Exeter have driven an hour away to Concord to attend an event held by Christians United for Israel.
Unidentified Man: Hallelujah. Welcome to the first night to honor Israel…
(Soundbite of applause)
Unidentified Man: …in the state of New Hampshire.
(Soundbite of cheering)
GREENBERG: Holly Colcord is up in the balcony with other members of her Exeter church. For Holly, her choice of presidential candidate is guided by one issue and, based on that, one candidate stands out.
Ms. HOLLY COLCORD (Member, The Father's Family Church of Exeter): Overall, I would prefer McCain. And the abortion issue is big with me. I like, you know, a pro-life choice. I think he's strongest in that area.
GREENBERG: But ask Holly what she would do if Giuliani gets the nomination.
Ms. COLCORD: I'll still vote Republican because overall, the strength, even for that issue, is on the Republican side.
GREENBERG: Holly's brother is pastor of The Father's Family Church. He says his faith tells him to support Mike Huckabee because Huckabee is Born Again. But he also says, if Giuliani is the nominee, that would be the hand of God at work. And he would vote for him.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Greenberg.
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