LIANE HANSEN, host:
For the past nine months, we've been listening to voters in the town of Exeter, New Hampshire. It's a town with families of great wealth and very modest means - about evenly divided among Republicans, Democrats and independents. Today, in our final installment before Tuesday's primaries, New Hampshire Public Radio's Jon Greenberg revisits some of the undecided voters we've met along the way.
(Soundbite of archived recording)
Unidentified Man: Welcome to New Hampshire, the site of the first-in-the-nation Democratic primary.
JON GREENBERG: Back in June, we sat down with a small group of Democrats and watched the debate among the Democratic candidates. By the end of that evening, Karen Pryor(ph), a part-time worker at a publishing company, had a new interest in John Edwards. But now, Karen has been won over by Barack Obama's optimistic message. Still, Karen says her commitment to Obama implies no criticism of Edwards or Hillary Clinton.
Ms. KAREN PRYOR: You know, on a 1-to-10, they may be 10, but I see Barack Obama as a 12, as a 15. I mean, he just embodies something - a dream, a hope, a desire to really do it right.
GREENBERG: Another debate watcher that June evening was Eric Lipset(ph), a 41-year-old salesman of business software. John Edwards had also made a good impression on Eric, but it took seeing Edwards in person at Exeter's town hall before Eric could finally make up his mind. Tough talk on immigration from Edwards helped lock in his support. Edwards said illegal aliens could stay in the U.S. if they learn to speak English and pay the fine for breaking the law. Eric says Edwards struck the right balance.
Mr. ERIC LIPSET (Business Software Salesman): Let's think about it practically. How can we deal with it, but yet, at the same time, let's admit that these people have come illegally.
GREENBERG: Early on, we met Holly and Philip Tisdal(ph), a Republican couple with a very personal stake in the Iraq war. Iraq is the main reason Holly is likely to vote for John McCain.
Ms. HOLLY TISDAL: He has children in the military as do I, so that has - that is a big consideration for me. And so it's my children's lives, and that has to be most important thing to me. And I totally trust McCain on that.
GREENBERG: Her husband, Philip, has settled firmly on Rudy Giuliani. Philip is equally comfortable with Giuliani, Mitt Romney and McCain. But in his view, Giuliani makes the best case for conservative policies.
Mr. PHILIP TISDAL: It's very hard to sound bite against people who are for the poor. It's very hard to sound bite against people who want to give others rights. And when I went and saw Giuliani, he can explain who we are in the most fluid and natural and honest way. And I said, given I love all three, I'm going to pick the guy who can tell America who we are.
GREENBERG: There was a time when Giuliani was also the first choice for Bob Kelly, a dirt farmer. Now, Bob thinks Giuliani can't see beyond the threat of terrorism and talks of spending billions more overseas when Bob wants Washington to focus on issues closer to home. He might vote for John McCain, but his passion lies with a very different candidate.
Mr. BOB KELLY: My dark horse is Ron Paul, who really sort of says all the things that I believe. It's just a question of getting my arms around and see, you know, just sort of a fringe guy who has the luxury of saying those things or does he really have a shot.
GREENBERG: During the summer, we also checked in with independents who had handed McCain his huge victory back in the 2000 primary. One was Jerry Hammel(ph) a home improvement contractor. Jerry has long soured on McCain. Now, he might vote for Mike Huckabee, the winner of the Iowa Republican caucuses.
Mr. JERRY HAMMEL (Home Improvement Contractor): He's got a good feel about him. He seems like he's a nice guy, an honest guy. And he seems like the type of guy that you could talk to without, you know, feeling that he's a lot better than I am.
GREENBERG: Fear of Mike Huckabee could be enough for another independent, Lee Williams(ph), to decide to vote in the Republican primary. Right now, Lee is considering two Democrats - Clinton and Obama. But she feels that religion plays much too big a role in the policies of both Huckabee and Romney. To block them, she might vote for McCain.
Ms. LEE WILLIAMS (Resident, New Hampshire): We really help decide who becomes president. And if Hillary Clinton bowled me over or, if on Sunday, Barack Obama bowled me over, is that enough to outweigh the honest threat that I feel for this country if either Romney or Huckabee become president?
GREENBERG: Lee might not see McCain as her first choice. But if her calculations told her to vote strategically, she would. After all, that's what makes her an independent voter.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Greenberg in Concord, New Hampshire.
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