Exeter, N.H.: Huntsmentum

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 10 2012 3:49 PM

Exeter, N.H.: Huntsmentum

EXETER, N.H. -- The polling place here is just down the street from Phillips Exeter Academy, that old, David Foster Wallace-beloved prep school, and the town has swung from ultra-Republican to generally liberal. The first voter I met, Bob Maney, was a registered Republican who usually votes for Democrats but voted this time for Jon Huntsman.

"He's the only one who says out loud what the problem in our politics is," he said. "I decided to vote for him after he stood up to Romney for degrading his service as an ambassador. I'd planned to cast some mischief vote, just for whoever would make trouble for Romney -- he's a bowl of jello -- but after that I liked Huntsman."

Near the polling place, there were four Ron Paul fans holding his signs and just as many Mitt Romney fans. No presence for any other candidates. And if there was any grand "clean for Ron" plan, for Paul backers to de-indie-fy themselves en masse, it did not spread here.

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Sam Pierson, the cleanest-shaven of the Paul fans, drove from his Chester polling station to volunteer here. His massive campaign sign, the size of a small ox, had sat in his hard until this morning. "Ron Paul's the only candidate who'll end the war and not inflate the currency," he said. He'd backed Paul last time; he'd voted for Reagan and Bush.

The in-town voters were mellower. Anna O'Neill, the class president at nearby Exeter High School, wanted to vote for Huntsman, but realized too late that registered Democrats couldn't do it. She voted for Barack Obama. Jane Capalbo, a nurse who backed Romney in 2008, backed him again this time. "He's really got everything," she said. "He can beat Obama, and really, that's all I care about. The others can't. I wish Newt and Santorum would go away, because they're both too socially conservative." I pointed out that Romney was running as a social conservative, too, and she smiled. "People change. We all change."

Nancy and John Dodge, both liberals who liked the president, split their votes. She stayed with Obama. He voted for Huntsman.

"I'd like it if it the Republicans nominated somebody reasonable," he said.

"But Obama's done a good job with he had," she said. "When you think about what he was handed by Bush! Ten years of war, dead soldiers, all that debt."

On the way out I noticed that a volunteer -- she braced at giving her name -- was collecting petitions for Americans Elect, the ersatz third party. "Give independents a voice on the ballot!" she 'd say. She wasn't being paid, she swore.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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