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N.H. Voters Look For Calm Amid Economic Jitters

The economic fears and hopes of the electorate in early-voting states like New Hampshire will play a significant role in determining who emerges from the pack of Republican presidential candidates.

And despite the Granite State's financial stability, lots of Republican voters see cloudy skies ahead.

Economist Ross Gittell says New Hampshire has some attractive numbers: "The national unemployment rate is 8.6 percent. New Hampshire, it's currently 5.2 percent. New Hampshire has relatively high per-capita income. Lowest poverty rate in the nation."

But, Gittell is quick to add, it's all relative. Like elsewhere across the country, New Hampshire has lost jobs and had its confidence shaken.

"The economic outlook for families across New Hampshire has declined quite significantly since the last primary," he says.

'It's An Emotional Thing'

During the recession, residential construction work dried up in and around New Hampshire.

That's made the past few years pretty tough for Susan Collins and her husband as they supported their teenage daughters. Collins says her clients — penny-wise Yankee shop owners — aren't exactly excited when she comes in with her lighting fixtures.

The economic outlook for families across New Hampshire has declined quite significantly since the last primary.

"I know I'm not going to walk in and get an order from them, a big order. I know I am not going to get it, because they're not buying really right now," Collins says. "They're being very, very cautious of how they spend their money."

Collins says she has shopped for a presidential candidate who will lift the nation's mood.

She gravitates to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. She likes that he helped turn around the 2002 Winter Olympics, and she wants to believe that maybe he could help the economy, too.

See, this recession has scared Collins and her neighbors in her nice Salem neighborhood, with pretty homes and well-groomed lawns — people who never thought they'd have to worry.

"It's an emotional thing, talking about the economy. ... You want your kids to have a good life," Collins says, choking up, "and you do worry that things aren't going to get better."

The 'Right-To-Work' Struggle

National economic concerns frame how many New Hampshire Republicans look at the GOP candidates. But for union members in the party, it's different.

This past year, state lawmakers tried to turn New Hampshire into a so-called right-to-work state. That would have meant workers could have benefited from collective bargaining agreements without paying union dues.

It was a bitter campaign.

"The fact of the matter is the tone of it has taken a toll on people," says Jeff Brown, the fire chief in Seabrook and the treasurer of the Rockingham County Republican Committee.

Brown says the presidential contenders only fanned the flames when they backed the right-to-work legislation, trying to curry favor with local politicians.

"These presidential candidates have a choice: They either want us to stay home, or they want us to be active voting members of the party," Brown says.

He says when he's with other Republican public employees, they talk about staying home on primary day. "Or even better than that, we'll give them what they want — we'll pick out the nuttiest one of the bunch, and that's who we're going to vote for," Brown says. "You never know, Ron Paul may reap the benefit of ticked-off public employees."

You want your kids to have a good life ... and you do worry that things aren't going to get better.

Fears Hamper Even The Successful

It's not too hard to find angry, frustrated Republicans in New Hampshire right now.

Like Brown, Joe and Judith Maloy feel beat up, but for them it's because they're successful.

"One of the things that's happened is that in this current economy ... we've become the bad guys. The business owners — I've all of a sudden become Simon Legree and she's Cruella de Vil," Joe Maloy says.

The Maloys are among the most affluent in the state. They run a successful mail-order business that's expected to gross more than $40 million this year.

They're so successful, they actually want to expand their company and create new jobs. But with so much economic uncertainty, Joe Maloy says the company can't move right now.

"What's unknown is: Is that $10-an-hour employee going to cost me $15, or is it going to be $18, $20, $25?" he says.

The Maloys don't know which candidate they will vote for yet.

And like many New Hampshire Republicans, they are less interested in any particular person. They just want the candidate who is going to attack the deficit, stop the sense of economic free fall and help them be a little less scared.

Copyright 2021 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

Dan Gorenstein