Upper Valley voters brought wide-ranging views to primary polls

As they chat in front of the Orford Town Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Orford, N.H., Bob Hedges holds a Nikki Haley sign and Deborah Merrill-Sands displays a write-in Joe Biden placard.
 (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

As they chat in front of the Orford Town Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Orford, N.H., Bob Hedges holds a Nikki Haley sign and Deborah Merrill-Sands displays a write-in Joe Biden placard. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Deborah Chase, left, and Nancy LaClair, both of Claremont, N.H., wave to passersby while holding Donald Trump signs outside Claremont Middle School in Claremont, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Both women have campaigned for Trump previously, and Chase said people are still enthusiastic about him but those who think the 2020 election was stolen now seem more wary of the election process. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Deborah Chase, left, and Nancy LaClair, both of Claremont, N.H., wave to passersby while holding Donald Trump signs outside Claremont Middle School in Claremont, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Both women have campaigned for Trump previously, and Chase said people are still enthusiastic about him but those who think the 2020 election was stolen now seem more wary of the election process. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Claremont Ward Clerk David Roark wears a tie emblazoned with the state of New Hampshire at Claremont Middle School in Claremont, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Claremont Ward Clerk David Roark wears a tie emblazoned with the state of New Hampshire at Claremont Middle School in Claremont, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Charles Stoll sings

Charles Stoll sings "You Are My Sunshine" to Orford Town Clerk Debbie Hadlock before voting at Town Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Signs urging Democratic voters to write in Joe Biden lie in the snow outside Claremont Middle School in Claremont, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Stephanie Harris, a Claremont Democrat who has campaigned for voters to write in Biden, said that if people want the first in the nation primary to continue it’s important to have a strong turnout in support of the President. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Signs urging Democratic voters to write in Joe Biden lie in the snow outside Claremont Middle School in Claremont, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Stephanie Harris, a Claremont Democrat who has campaigned for voters to write in Biden, said that if people want the first in the nation primary to continue it’s important to have a strong turnout in support of the President. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Julie Tatem pets Katurah the dog outside the Canaan, N.H., polls while Barbara Buzzell waits in the car after voting on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Buzzell voted for Donald Trump and Tatem cast her ballot for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the New Hampshire Primary. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Julie Tatem pets Katurah the dog outside the Canaan, N.H., polls while Barbara Buzzell waits in the car after voting on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Buzzell voted for Donald Trump and Tatem cast her ballot for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the New Hampshire Primary. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

At the Canaan, N.H., polls, voter Freda Washburn gives ballot clerk Debbie McDermott a pat on the shoulder on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2023. McDermott was dressed in red white and blue for the day.

At the Canaan, N.H., polls, voter Freda Washburn gives ballot clerk Debbie McDermott a pat on the shoulder on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2023. McDermott was dressed in red white and blue for the day. "I love themes," she laughed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Assistant Town Clerk Suellen Leischner helps people register to vote at Newport Middle High School in Newport, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Assistant Town Clerk Suellen Leischner helps people register to vote at Newport Middle High School in Newport, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

James Burroughs, right, vice chairman of the Newport Selectboard, greets voters at Newport Middle High School in Newport, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

James Burroughs, right, vice chairman of the Newport Selectboard, greets voters at Newport Middle High School in Newport, N.H., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By FRANCES MIZE and PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writers

Published: 01-23-2024 8:29 PM

Modified: 01-26-2024 9:56 AM


ORFORD — Whether or not New Hampshire voters fully support Nikki Haley for president, many of those who threw their weight behind her in Tuesday’s primaries saw their ballots as defensive — an effort to keep former President Donald Trump’s name off the ballot the next time they are in a voting booth.

Standing side-by-side near the walkway to the Orford Town Hall, neighbors Deborah Merrill-Sands and Bob Hedges greeted voters. Hedges leaned up against a sign for Nikki Haley as Merrill-Sands encouraged registered Democrats to write in President Joe Biden’s name.

“We’ve got two different strategies, but for both of us this is a protest vote,” Merrill-Sands said.

In four criminal indictments — two federal and two state — Trump faces 91 felony charges related to financial misstatements, 2020 election interference and the misuse of classified documents.

Still, he’s shed much of his competition.

Left standing is Haley, who has the lion’s share of undeclared voters in the state but lags far behind with registered Republicans, according to the latest primary poll from the University of New Hampshire.

“We’re for promoting civil discourse, instead of just shouting,” Hedges said from behind his Haley sign.

As for Biden, Merrill-Sands said she wants “to make sure he’s recognized in New Hampshire, and I wanted to mobilize Democrats to show their support for him.”

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Matt Kuchar, who voted for Haley, is hoping “for anyone but Trump as the nominee,” he said leaving Orford Town Hall. In this election, Kuchar cares about geopolitical stability, continuing the economic recovery after the pandemic and staving off the erosion of federal oversight.

He wishes there were a more moderate Republican candidate, describing his vote for Haley as “tactical.”

Kuchar said he’d vote for Biden in a general election.

For Jane Fant, however, Haley’s the best option, full-stop. “It’s good to have a woman and she makes a lot of sense,” Fant said. “Trump created chaos and Biden is an idiot.”

“I’m older than Biden and I wouldn’t vote for me. I don’t remember yesterday.”

Inside Orford’s town office, moderator Harry Pease, who went to elementary school in the building, said turnout was typical. Three-dozen Orford residents arrived to vote in the first hour polls were open.

A few voters hiked up to the office from shoulder-less Route 25A, among them Selectboard member Chase Kling. A registered Democrat, he planned to write in Biden’s name.

“This isn’t so much about issues, as it is about whether we’ll have a president who follows the rules, or one who violates the constitution,” Kling said.

Trump supporters in both Newport and Claremont were undeterred by his tendency toward rule flouting. They saw his outspokenness and combative rhetoric as a mark of strong leadership.

“Nikki Haley is a great person, but Trump is the only person with the power and talent to get the job done,” said registered Republican Jeffrey Brown, of Newport.

“He’s the man who can get our country back on track and who can deal with the foreign leaders,” said Ralph Simoneau Jr., of Claremont, a registered Republican. “No one can touch him.”

Trump voters identified border security and the economy among their top concerns. While most spoke favorably of Haley, they said she does not exude the charisma that made Trump successful during his presidency.

“Whether you like him or not, things were good when he was president,” said Newport Selectboard member Keith Sayer, a Republican. “(Haley) doesn’t command a room like Trump does.”

Sayer said that when Trump was president, America was moving toward energy independence, the U.S.-Mexico border was secure and inflation was in check.

“Since he left, it has all gone (downhill),” Sayer said.

Newport Republican Karen Anderson, who voted for Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican presidential primary but has supported Trump since, said the former president is the best candidate to keep America safe — including from crime, terrorist attacks and infectious diseases being carried into the country.

Anderson, a substitute teacher, said she worries in particular about the adequacy of protections at the country’s borders with Mexico and Canada, as well as the effectiveness of airline security to screen foreign passengers.

When asked about Trump’s legal challenges, the former president’s supporters said they never reconsidered their loyalty.

“They’re just trying to get him to not run,” said Linda Nelson, of Claremont. “They fought him tooth and nail on everything he did during his presidency.”

Still, in Newport, a town that strongly backed Trump in the last two presidential elections, many Republican and undeclared voters exiting the polls said they cast their ballots for Haley, advocating conservative leadership without the divisiveness and drama that is often associated with Trump.

“I don’t want a rinse and repeat of the last election cycle,” said Rebecca Nelson, an independent voter. “It’s time for a change.”

Nelson said she agrees with Haley’s ideas for securing the U.S.-Mexico border and reigning in federal spending and believes that the former South Carolina governor will be more effective than Trump when dealing with congressional Democrats.

Several Haley supporters identified border security and the economy, particularly inflation, as their top concerns. But they want leaders who will focus on moving the country forward by tackling the problems rather than bickering with political rivals.

“We need someone new and brings fresh ideas,” said Deborah Turgeon, a registered Republican. “She is smart and personable and relates to people.”

Some Haley supporters also expressed concern about Trump’s age, saying that the presidency is a high-stress job that is taxing on the individual’s physical and mental health.

While most of the worry expressed by Newport voters was directed at Biden, who just turned 81, some noted that Trump, 77, is only four years younger.

In Claremont, Raella Buenno, an undeclared voter in Ward III, said she supported Haley partly in opposition to Trump.

“Trump is going to be so bad for this country if he is reelected,” Buenno said, equating Trump’s views and rhetoric to those espoused by fascist authoritarians.

Buenno said that she voted for Biden in the 2020 presidential election but she is worried about his ability to hold a second term due to his age.

Dale Barney has been moderator in Canaan for more than 40 years. Usually the energy of the primaries is more muted than the general election, but this year, “there’s more hype in the primaries because of the high profile, some would say controversial, people running,” Barney said.

Voters are “playing a lot of games,” he said, noting an uptick in people changing their registration from Republican to undeclared, and vice-versa.

Canaan resident Eric Harbeck voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020, but cast his ballot on Tuesday for Haley. Trump’s “means of conducting himself” are what turned Harbeck on the former president, he said, adding that someone “acting on the global stage” should have more decorum.

But for Paul and Joan Desantis — no relation to the Florida governor — behavior matters little. “I don’t vote on character, because it doesn’t make sense to,” Joan Desantis said. “Nobody knows these people really.”

Both voted for Trump.

The mistake, Paul Desantis said, in the way people think about Trump is that “they listen to what he says, rather than watch what he does.”

“People say they don’t like the way he talks, and then they talk just like him,” he said. “Which is like a crude next-door neighbor,” he said.

As for Ron DeSantis’ failed campaign, “something’s brewing,” perhaps a bid for vice president, Joan Desantis said.

Julie Tatem is a staunch supporter of independent Robert F. Kennedy, who has barely made a dent in national polling. “But he’s grassroots, and not beholden to corporate money,” Tatem said.

The last time she voted with passion in a general election was for Jimmy Carter, she said.

“I think people have been blinded by Trump’s promises, and they’re vain promises,” Tatem said. “He tells a sweet story, but he’s dangerous for America.”

Ken and Carol Hooker voted for Trump together.

“I liked how things were going when he was president,” Ken Hooker said. “Now prices are sky high and I can’t afford anything.”

Trump “stands up for what we believe in,” Carol said. “He’s for jobs and getting the economy back.”

The Hookers aren’t concerned with other GOP politicians.

“We don’t think of them,” Carol said.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242. Patrick Adrian can be reached at padrian@ vnews.com or 603-727-3216.