Voters riled by war, health costs, economy

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Health care, jobs and the Iraq war were the issues on voters’ minds as they turned out in record numbers for the Jan. 27 presidential primaries here. Over 214,000 voted in the Democratic primary, far exceeding any previous year’s total.

Many New Hampshire voters said uppermost on their minds was getting a candidate who could defeat Bush. They handed a win to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who added momentum to his victory in the Iowa caucuses by drawing 38 percent of the vote here. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean got 26 percent. General Wesley Clark and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards were virtually tied for third place.

George Daneault, a voter in Nashua, said angrily, “Bush does not represent poor and working people like me.” Daneault, who is disabled, said he was a victim of the Bush administration’s cutbacks. He called the Iraq war “a bad idea” because “a lot of soldiers are getting killed for nothing.” Daneault’s brother-in-law is serving in Iraq.

Nancy Barnes, an office worker at a circuit-board manufacturing plant here, was one of 60,000 who voted in the GOP primary, but she is seriously considering voting Democratic in the November presidential race. Barnes told the World that the disappearance of jobs is a major concern. While she feels that the locally-owned company she works for won’t flee the country, she is worried about other area jobs, including “a lot of electronics going overseas.” She is also concerned about affordable health care and housing.

Mark MacKenzie, New Hampshire AFL-CIO president, said Barnes’ worries are indicative of the concerns that this state’s voters have, cutting across party lines. “New Hampshire lost 20,000 manufacturing jobs since George Bush took office,” MacKenzie said. “We need to keep that issue on the forefront.”

MacKenzie and Barnes both cited the looming Feb. 3 closing of the Tyson Foods meat processing plant here. “It’s a big blow to this community,” MacKenzie said, noting that 550 workers, many of them immigrants, will lose their jobs.

Many voters wore buttons or held signs saying, “I’m a Health Care Voter,” part of a campaign initiated by the Service Employees International Union to press candidates to address the issue. Health care campaigner Brian Hawkins of Concord said over the past year 50,000 people have signed petitions saying this will be their top issue when they vote.

MacKenzie told the World a number of unions had actively campaigned for candidates or issues in the primary race, including the United Auto Workers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and his own International Association of Firefighters. All of them pushed the candidates in a good direction, he said.

MacKenzie said the state labor organization was fighting to make sure the candidates “were on the same page on trade issues, the right to organize, and job creation.” He predicted the result would be that “we will have a candidate who can fight Bush.”

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state 3 to 2. But in 2000 Bush won New Hampshire by just over 7,000 votes, MacKenzie said. “We have been working for five or six months on building a network of coordinators” to work with local unions on getting out the vote against Bush this year, he said. “We are ready to go. We are one of the battleground states.”

Young voters also turned out heavily here. Kady Sykes, 18, a first-time voter from Londonderry, told this reporter she is afraid that Bush and the ultra-right may try to abolish a woman’s right to choose. Sykes convinced four female friends from her high school to join her in voting for candidates who defend reproductive choice. New Hampshire is one of five states that allow same-day registration.

At 17, Sarah Pavnick was too young to vote. But she will be 18 by November and plans on voting against Bush. “Bush split up my family,” she said, explaining that both her brothers had to leave newborn infants at home to serve in Iraq.

Lucille Kocsis, a restaurant worker from Hooksett, spoke of her opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Finding weapons of mass destruction could have justified the deaths of U.S. soldiers, she said, but “Saddam Hussein was right. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”

Kocsis wants to be able to “retire at 62, not at 70,” but is concerned about the rising cost of health care, especially prescription drugs. “I can’t afford to travel to Canada to buy medicine,” she said. The U.S. needs national health insurance, she added.

“W. scares the hell out of me,” University of New Hampshire assistant registrar Terri Piotrowski told the World. She said she had a multitude of reasons to vote against Bush, including, “How are we going to get out of Iraq?” and “Jobs are lousy. I have three kids with degrees and I’m worried about them having jobs.”

Piotrowski cautioned that the New Hampshire primary comes very early in the election cycle, and the state does not reflect the nation as a whole. Key primaries will take place Feb. 3 in seven states.

The author can be reached at j.a.cruz@comcast.net.

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