N.H. voters share disbelief and disgust over the descent of a civic tradition

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker journeys across America talking with voters to get to the heart of this volatile moment in American politics.
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 11:20 AM

Seven days. Seven states. In the final week of the campaign, Philip Rucker makes a mad dash across America listening to what voters have to say.

NASHUA, N.H. - The people in this pocket of New England take their politics seriously. Voting here is more than a civic duty. It is a tradition that involves studying the issues, arguing with neighbors and sizing up the candidates face to face.

So it is almost painful to ask Granite State voters what they make of Election 2010 - an unorthodox midterm election year that has turned on the unpredictable, the ugly and, often, the trivial.

"It's disillusioning," said Tom Burns, 79, a Korean War veteran and regular participant in this state's first-in-the-nation presidential primaries. "It's devolved into something different than what we expect. We expect to see the pros and cons on bona fide issues, but it's not bona fide issues anymore. I'm not sure why I even vote. I guess because I'm American."

Wearing a red New England Patriots cap, Burns searched for a metaphor as he loaded groceries into his car. "Bad ingredients," he said.

"The Democrats and Republicans seem to be beating and beating and beating the same old horses all the way along," Burns said. "I've never seen politics like this in my lifetime, and I'm almost 80 years old. I've never seen the United States like this in my lifetime. It's sad to see. It's very disheartening."

Burns said he will still vote next week - for Democrats - but will do so reluctantly.

The medley of people who streamed in and out of a Shaw's grocery store on Main Street in the quaint downtown here on Tuesday afternoon had differing views on President Obama and the economy. But they found common ground in their disgust for dirty campaigns and in their disbelief that American politics has devolved.

"It's a joke," said Angel Demanche, 30, unloading a cart full of groceries to feed her five children. "They're all smashing each other and you don't know what to believe anymore, so I'm not going to vote this year. I really don't know who to believe anymore."

Asked whether she takes politics seriously, Demanche, who works as a personal assistant and haunted house manager, said: "Yeah, and it should be to everyone else, too."

Charlie Reed, a retired police officer, summed it up like this: "It's always been dirty, but part of it is I think they're bringing out a lot more dirt than ever."

Asked what she thinks about this year's election, one woman carrying a gallon of milk to her car waved her right hand and said, "They're all a bunch of idiots. Get to the issues!"

Would she elaborate?

"I don't have time. I've got to pick up kids," she said, driving off in her red Ford Taurus.

A middle-aged cashier at Shaw's stepped outside for a cigarette break. Asked for her thoughts on the election, she rolled her eyes and laughed.

"Oh, no, I don't want to do that on my break," she said, lighting up. "I just want to relax."

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