Last-Minute Decisions for Milford, N.H., Voters Last March, when we first visited Milford, N.H., to gauge residents' attitudes about the upcoming primary, the presidential race was far from people's minds. Now on the verge of Tuesday's balloting, the number of undecided voters has shrunk dramatically.
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Last-Minute Decisions for Milford, N.H., Voters

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Last-Minute Decisions for Milford, N.H., Voters

Last-Minute Decisions for Milford, N.H., Voters

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Our co-host, Melissa Block, is on her fourth trip to the town of Milford, New Hampshire. It's in the southern part of the state. She's been checking in with voters in Milford since last March. We chose Milford because it's a lot like New Hampshire. It traditionally votes Republican, but it also has a lot of independent voters and lots of new arrivals who were turning the red state more blue.

And Melissa joins us now. Melissa, are you seeing signs of election fever in Milford?

MELISSA BLOCK: Well, they are hoping for a record turnout here, Michele. I stopped by town hall today and talked with the town clerk, Peggy Langell. She said she's hoping they won't run out of ballots. You know, one big wild card here is that people can register in New Hampshire on the day of the primary. And they're getting a lot of calls from folks who want to do just that. Remember also that nearly half of Milford voters are undeclared or independent. And one big question is, which ballot they're going to pick up tomorrow.

NORRIS: Now, Melissa, your first trip to Milford was back in March. What's changed in the last 10 months?

BLOCK: You know, back then, the presidential race was really very far from people's minds. And over the next few trips, I found people getting more and more aware. But there was a lot of indecision. Until now, they've reached a saturation point with so many ads and phone calls. A lot of people have gone to hear the candidates in person. And the number of undecideds has really shrunk dramatically. We came back to Milford to talk one last time, Michele, with some of the folks that we've met. And we talked with them here at the Santos Dumont Coffee Bar in Milford.

Let's start with Tim and Noreen O'Connell. He's a state representative. He's a Republican. She's chair of the Milford Board of Selectmen and an independent. Or, here's how she puts it.

Ms. NOREEN O'CONNELL (Chairwoman, Milford Board of Selectmen ): Painfully independent.

BLOCK: Painfully independent. Now, when I talked to Noreen a few months ago, she was undecided. She has made up her mind. She's voting for an underdog, Democrat Bill Richardson.

Ms. O'CONNELL: He is a diplomat, and he has balanced a budget. As a selectman, I know how hard that is. He might not be as flamboyant, but I think he's a Steady Eddie.

BLOCK: Her husband, Tim, is backing Republican John McCain. He thinks he speaks straight, takes difficult stands and has shown the ability to work on both sides of the aisle in the Senate. But Tim O'Connell says he's not as enthusiastic a McCain supporter as he was eight years ago, when McCain won the New Hampshire primary. And he says it's because of one thing.

State Representative TIM O'CONNELL (New Hampshire State Legislature): The Iraq situation. I was strongly opposed. I did not think it was a good idea to go in there in the first place. And I guess I will talk straight on - I sometimes get the feeling that Senator McCain might be a little trigger-happy.

BLOCK: If John McCain were to win the presidency, he would be the oldest president ever inaugurated in this country. Do you care about that one way or the other?

State Rep. O'CONNELL: He certainly doesn't act 71. I'm not sure I would advocate him running for a second term. But I certainly think he's, you know, could be very effective in his first term.

BLOCK: Michele, I also visited again with Gail and Jack Ruonala whom I first met last March. They're retired, they're Republicans. And just a few days ago, they settled on a candidate, but not wholeheartedly.

Ms. GAIL RUONALA (New Hampshire Voter): Well, sort of Romney.

Mr. JACK RUONALA (New Hampshire Voter): I wouldn't vote for any of them with a great deal of enthusiasm because none of them have come forward with - that gives you the feeling that this is the guy or gal that's going to really do things for this country which are really going to be beneficial.

Ms. RUONALA: I would love to see a person run where I could say, now, that's the type of person I would like to have face international figures. Is he diplomatic? Does he have a light in his eye?

BLOCK: Do you remember feeling that excited, enthusiastic about a candidate before?

Ms. RUONALA: Well, this goes back a long, long ways. But how about Eisenhower?

BLOCK: You do hear considerably more excitement about the Democratic field. Steve and Cammie Opre are strong supporters of John Edwards. Cammie is a Democrat. Steve was a Republican for 20 years. He switched to independent last month.

Mr. STEVE OPRE (New Hampshire Voter): It's great to be able to look at a field of candidates and see a number of them that, if any of those people became president, I think the country would be in good shape. It's not just bad choice or worse choice.

BLOCK: Cammie Opre says she did go back and look more carefully at Barack Obama after his win in Iowa last week.

Ms. CAMMIE OPRE (New Hampshire Voter): I was talking to people at church this morning. A lot of people think he's great, but that he is young. I mean, the older people, like my parents' generation, are all like, oh, he's a little young. They just can't feel comfortable with him.

And what was interesting this morning, I did my own informal poll at church. And everyone's voting for Richardson. I couldn't believe it. And this is what I think people are missing about New Hampshire is, if you give us a choice of A or B, we pick C. And if you give us a choice of A, B or C, we pick D. Don't tell us we only have two choices, you know? You can't tell us that.

BLOCK: Milford library director Michelle Sampson lost her top choice. She was backing Democrat Joe Biden, who left the race after a dismal finish in Iowa.

Ms. MICHELLE SAMPSON (Director, Wadleigh Memorial Library): I was really disappointed. I was a Biden girl. I loved Joe Biden. And hopefully, perhaps, he'll make a wonderful secretary of state now that he's dropped out.

BLOCK: So she went to a forum on Friday to hear the other Democrats, and she became a convert to Barack Obama.

Ms. SAMPSON: I was completely and utterly blown away by hearing him speak. And you know, I called my mom at home in Pennsylvania right after and I said, I have one word for you. And she's like, what? I said, Kennedy. They're - I mean, I had goose bumps. Politicians don't give me goose bumps.

BLOCK: What was it that you were hearing that made you - that gave you goose bumps?

Ms. SAMPSON: I think because there's just so much bad news when you turn on the television anymore or the radio, and he gave me hope that there is a possibility for a change.

BLOCK: So Michelle Sampson contributing to that post-Iowa Obama bounce in the polls we've been hearing about, but not Karin Lagro. She's an independent. When I talked to her in October, she told me about a spreadsheet that she had set up to compare all the candidates on both sides. Now, she's made her choice.

Ms. KARIN LAGRO (New Hampshire Voter): I've actually made a decision just this week. And it's sort of surprising me. I'm going to vote for Clinton. I really, really wanted to like Barack Obama, but one of my concerns is that I think we're at a time where our foreign policy is going to be an enormous issue. And I think that his lack of experience shows there.

BLOCK: And finally, let's hear from Steve O'Keefe. A Republican, he works for Fidelity Investments. He's gone back and forth. He was 100 percent for Mitt Romney, then he flirted with Mike Huckabee. Now, he says he's 95 percent sure he'll vote for Romney. He likes Romney's leadership experience with the Olympics, likes his business sense. He thinks he'll continue what Republicans are known for.

Mr. STEVE O'KEEFE (Fidelity Investments): Doing tax cuts. He'll be able to provide some sort of kick to this economy, especially now that everyone's concerned with a recession. I think Mitt Romney is ready to do that based off his business background. You know, somebody can just really impress me over the next day, and you know, maybe John McCain's 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.

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

BLOCK: You never know. But Michele, for now, he's definite.

NORRIS: As definite as definite can be, I guess, with just a day left now before the voting.

BLOCK: That's right.

NORRIS: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: You bet, Michele.

NORRIS: That's our co-host, Melissa Block, in Milford, New Hampshire. You can hear her previous conversations with residents of Milford and see how the town has voted in previous presidential contests. That's at npr.org/elections.

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