Voters Size Up Ron Paul In The N.H. Town Where His Campaign Began
Texas Rep. Ron Paul picked Exeter, a town of about 14,000 in southeastern New Hampshire, to announce his presidential run in May.
So when NPR photographer John Poole and I arrived in New Hampshire today in advance of the state's GOP primary next week, we decided to stop by this quintessential New England town and see how Paul is faring.
We headed to Me & Ollie's Bakery and Café, in the shadow of the Exeter Town Hall, where Paul officially announced his third run for the presidency.
Our visit came on the heels of a new Suffolk University survey that showed Paul, 76, in second going into New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary. That's the good news for Paul supporters, who are also hoping for a top-three finish tomorrow in Iowa's presidential caucuses.
The bad news?
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the poll shows, has solidified an enormous lead with the historically independent-minded Granite State electorate, which has overwhelmingly made up its mind.
Romney tops the poll at 41 percent; Paul is at 15 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the pick of 11 percent; and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa contest and is concentrating on New Hampshire, limped in at fourth with 9 percent. (We're heading to a Huntsman event tonight in Dover, just up the road from Exeter.)
Just 16 percent of those surveyed said they had yet to make up their minds. But in Exeter, where some claim native Amos Tuck helped found the Republican Party in the mid-1800s, we talked to some residents who continue to back Paul, and others who said they wouldn't vote for him, but they are glad he's running because of the issues he's raised.
Here's what we heard:
Michael McLaughlin, 35, a high school chemistry teacher in Exeter, who supports Paul now, and did in 2008:
"I know he can't get there, and I don't agree with Ron Paul on everything," McLaughlin said, "but he's moved the conversation in the right direction." It's Paul's message of "smaller government and fewer wars" that resonates with McLaughlin. "It's too bad that the 'Live Free or Die' state doesn't support Ron Paul."
Rick Robinson, 67, a part-time minister and self-described evangelical Christian from nearby Epping:
"To me, I feel like he's too old – and I'm an older man myself," Robinson said. "I've also seen some negative press about racial statements he made." Robinson said Paul "doesn't have the business experience" he's looking for in a candidate. He's leaning toward Romney because of his business record, he said, "and I like what he's saying about getting America back to work." Robinson said his top issues this election are health care, the economy and a candidate's world view.
Ron Mirsky,54, of Exeter, a self-employed hair stylist:
"I think Paul has a lot of interesting ideas. I'm interested in free enterprise, but he wants to get rid of the Federal Reserve," Mirsky said — a bridge too far in his estimation.
Rodney Anderson, 46, a military veteran and medevac crew chief from Exeter:
"Ron Paul has the right vision about the need for budget cuts, but when he talks about cutting $1 trillion — what are you going to do with all of those people out of jobs?" Anderson said. "I'm all for anyone talking about cutting major spending and paying off the debt, but where's the substance?" he said. Anderson, who says he's leaning toward voting for Romney, wants to hear more from the candidates about how they'll take care of military veterans. He said he's concerned about proposals to privatize military benefits, a scenario he sees as "taking that security blanket for veterans and gambling it on Wall Street."
Pricilla, 69, and Sharak Samii, 70, of Exeter, both Democrats:
"If I could vote in the primary, I'd vote for Ron Paul," Sharak said, "because he's consistent. Some of the stuff he's saying isn't going to work, but at least he's consistent."
Pricilla said people are "interested in him because he's speaking to issues people care about, but I'm not sure they're going to vote for him."
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