Independents swinging towards Dems

Trisha Swonger, part of the remarkable 43 percent of New Hampshire voters who call themselves independents, remembers the balloons and euphoria in 2000 when her man, John McCain, won the state’s leadoff Republican primary.

He’d better not be counting on her this year.

In fact, come primary day, the Republicans shouldn’t be counting on very many of the independents at all.

In 2000, Swonger joined McCain and other supporters in a hotel ballroom cheering his big New Hampshire victory over George W. Bush. But times have changed.

“The John McCain who is running this time is not the John McCain I supported in 2000,” Swonger said, standing outside a house party for her current candidate, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. “I don’t want anything to do with this guy.”

Or his party. “Undeclareds,” as independents are called in New Hampshire, are congregating around the Democratic race.

Four out of 10 say they plan to vote in the Democratic primary, and about the same number say they aren’t sure which ballot they will pick up on primary day. Only 19 percent are planning to vote in the Republican primary, according to a recent poll by Saint Anselm College’s Institute of Politics.

In contrast, undeclareds in 2000 broke heavily for Republicans — 62 percent to 38 percent — thanks to keen interest in the Bush-McCain race and the lackluster campaigns of Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

The 43 percent of voters who register as “undeclared” in New Hampshire outnumber both Republicans, 31 percent, and Democrats, 26 percent. They helped produce McCain’s 2000 upset, though the Arizona senator also won among Republicans.

“I go with the person each time I think will make the best judgment call,” said Maria D. Wilson, a stay-at-home mother of two who hasn’t yet picked a candidate. “It’s a very exciting time to be an American, with the sense of change going on. … I think people are ready for a change and to shake it up. Independents, right now, are very interested in Democrats.”

More than any other Democrat, they’re interested in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama has seen a 17 percentage-point lead over Clinton among independents in July turn into a 2-point deficit in the most recent University of New Hampshire poll.

“People are looking at electability,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “It’s the fresh, young face versus the old-machine candidate.”

If there’s good news for Obama, McCain and others, it’s the fluidity of the independent voters, who tend to tune in late to campaigns.

They also dislike partisanship, which buoyed Obama early based on his anti-Washington message. It also has helped former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the Republican who is known for moderate positions on social issues.

McCain likes it that independents typically decide late.

“History doesn’t repeat itself. But it was literally in the last 48 hours of the 2000 campaign that the independents all stampeded our way,” he said after a campaign stop in Hampton.

McCain also hopes for some strategic voting if Clinton continues to dominate the Democratic contest.

“If (independent voters) think that the Democrat side is over — and right now a lot of people are saying that … then I think they’re going to go where they think they can make a difference,” McCain said.

Mary Jean Scholl of Seabrook is the kind of independent McCain is after.

“I vote Democrat or I vote Republican. It just depends on the individual,” she said.

Scholl supported McCain in 2000 and will again if he wins the GOP nomination. But she doesn’t know whether she’ll choose a Republican primary ballot this time.

McCain’s backing for the unpopular war in Iraq and his leadership on failed immigration overhaul have cost him support among New Hampshire independents. Chuck Navin, an independent from Hampton, confronted McCain on both issues during a recent town hall-style meeting.

“In 2000, he was my candidate,” Navin said. “I considered working on his campaign this year. But I’ve been not totally convinced of his position on Iraq and I am totally opposed to his position — up until today, anyway — on illegal immigrants.”

Navin now is looking to Giuliani. Or Romney. Or maybe McCain after all.


  1. Sandra Price

    It is so obvious to me that Moderate Republicans and Independents do not want those social prohibitions made a part of the Bill of Rights. Social conservatives should get out of our bedrooms and our social lives. They should also show some interest in the dangers our American Soldiers are facing in the Middle East.

  2. egc_iowa

    I’m always surprised that Independents exist in our polarized political duopoly. Do these people not have an opinion about Abortion, Gun Control (2nd Amendment), Big vs. Small Government, etc? Ms. Scholl says “it just depends on the individual” but the individuals bring their party with them, and the parties are not going to govern with a swinging independent agenda.

  3. Sandra Price

    egc, we all have our agendas firmly in our minds. I am an old limited Government, individual freedoms Republican. We have always been against the federal government involved in our social and religious decisions.

    If the platforms in both parties had stuck to their guns, nobody would be searching for a third party. Some Republicans will not cave into the relgious right so where we go for our representatives? Many Republicans do not want the One World Order Empire that Bush 41 was promoting. That is what started the movement away from the GOP and Perot got the 12 million votes that would have reelected Bush 41.

    It is up to the individual voter to decide which Republican Platform they will either follow or go Independent. Individuals bring their desire for freedoms where ever they go. I am a Capitalist and will always vote for any candidate who can clean up the corruption surrounding the corporations without knocking them down. I want the ability to invest in big business because I do not have the background to start my own. I do not trust the federal government to take my money from my pay- checks and then tell me I have to pay taxes on what they allow me back. I always have the ability to pick and choose my investments in businesses but I am at the mercy of the corrupt federal government.

    Being a Capitalist in America means I am considered selfish and greedy by most others. Making a profit in America is considered a sin and that is wrong! I invest in companies and expect to make a profit and I want the ability to sell those investments and find those who will share their profits with their investments. I’m certain this sounds strange to you as you want everyone labeled as one party or another.

    Everyone has opinions on abortions, government size and gun control. Personally I do not want the federal government involved in my personal and private choices. We have the 2nd Amendment but most people have no idea that that is. We have the 10th Amendment which leaves all issues not called out in the Constitution to be sent to the States! What part of that do you and others not recognize?

  4. bjiller

    Re: egc’s comment

    Independents are the sane center. We don’t see all that much substantive difference between the parties. Clinton cut welfare. Bush II enacted prescription drug medicare coverage. Enough said. The independents’ main concern is to prevent either party from doing too much damage to the nation.

    Both parties are subject to the same weaknesses once in power. You can’t trust either party to put the national interest ahead of their own interest in maintaining power. The GOP corruption scandals of the past five years are simply the flip side of the Democratic corruption scandals of the 1980s that led to the “Contract with America” that shifted control to the GOP, with minor interruptions due to the Clintonian shift to the center (or to the right, depending on your perspective).

    Both parties misinterpret favorable election results as mandates for their most partisan programs, when elections are really reactive — enough people in the center vote against the party in control because that party has gone overboard in some fashion. The “Contract with America” is an example. The 2006 election is another example. Those GOP and independents who voted Democrat in 2006 didn’t change their opinions on any of the matters mentioned by mvc, they simply decided that Bush had gone way too far right in too many different ways (the Iraq war, torture, wiretapping, the unitary executive, fiscal insanity, government support of evangelical policies, etc). They certainly did not vote Democratic because they supported socialized medicine and higher taxes.

    That is why many of us proudly maintain our independence. I’m sure most independents have strong opinions on the subjects that mvc mentions (I know I do), but we are not going to unconditionally support either party based on campaign promises that we know won’t be kept, or based on propaganda that we know isn’t true.

  5. egc_iowa

    Sandra Price & bjiller — thanks for your intelligent responses. FYI, I don’t *want* everyone labeled as one party or the other, it’s the *candidates* that are labeling themselves and are bringing their damnable parties with them. Further, my point is that I have such strong views on the issues that widely separate the parties (Abortion, etc) that I have an impossible time voting for a candidate (and her/his) party that has such strong views opposite to mine. Honesty in government, competence, and a desire to throw the bums out are less important to me, I guess.

    (Note how carefully I don’t reveal my position)

  6. SEAL

    Whatever you’re personal views, the fact that you consider honesty and competence to be less important issues in government and/or candidates for government office causes me to discount your credibility regarding any of the issues.

    Honesty and competence are the two primary considerations in evaluating any candidate for office. It makes no difference what views a a dishonest and incompetent candidate has. I wouldn’t vote for him/her even if we agareed on all the issues. Frankly, I’m dumfounded by your statement.

  7. SEAL

    There was an article published on Yahoo! today that stated there have been 140some “Republicans for Obama” organizations established across the RED states.

    It, also, said a poll of strictly registered republicans rated Obama third behind Rudy and Romney, ahead of McCain and all the rest, as their choice for president.

    This was a poll conducted by some university.

    This election gets more and more weird by the day.

  8. egc_iowa

    Honest and competent tyrants have ruled and debased the world for millennia. “Honest” because they did not deny or hide their absolute rule and harsh policies. “Competent” because they successfully implemented their policies, however harsh.

    But if I’m someone the tyrant doesn’t like, I’m hosed. He’ll honestly and competently destroy me and my ilk.

    My conclusion: give me someone who supports what I believe in *first* with the other characteristics of secondary importance.