In Depth

Students Rally for Obama and Palin in New Hampshire

Against a backdrop of lush fall foliage in central New Hampshire, Barack Obama addressed an audience of nearly 4,000 people a couple of weeks ago; a day earlier, on the sideline of a football field a few towns away, Sarah Palin had addressed an audience of 5,000, as both candidates slugged it out over the nearly 400,000 undecided voters in the granite state. Forget paying attention to the changing leaves up here. This fall, the country was paying attention to the changing affections of those undecided voters. In mid-October, a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll gave Barack Obama only a 5 percent lead, which made a the race close call. “We are not looking at polls because so much of New Hampshire is undecided,” said Larkin Vater, a spokeswoman for Obama’s New Hampshire offices. At their recent rallies, both candidates wooed voters in Rockingham County, where a quarter of all undecided voters reside, according to the Office of the Secretary of State. Obama’s rally was held at Mack’s Apples in Londonderry, a working-class town with a median family income of $73,513, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Hay bales and freshly picked pumpkins adorned the stage. “How many of you here make over $250,000?” asked Obama. Only a few dozen attendees raised their hands. “I want to give 95 percent of working Americans the tax relief they deserve,” he said. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have been here. I was employed, had health care and [was] going to vote for McCain,” said John Cutler, a New Hampshire resident, while waiting in line to clear security at the Obama rally. The economy is the most important issue according to both the McCain and Obama campaigns. “Americans are worried about the stock market and how they are going to pay for heating and healthcare,” said Varter. Sarah Palin held her rally on the football field of Salem High School accompanied by four-time Iditarod champion Bruce Buser and by her husband Todd Palin, the “First Dude of Alaska.” Salem has the largest number of undecided voters in Rockingham County, according to the Office of the Secretary of State. The audience was filled with upper-middle class families and women wearing hockey jerseys with “Hockey Moms for Palin” written on the front. The Governor of Alaska focused her speech on Senator John McCain’s economic plan. “Senator McCain will help our retirees keep their savings and investments they worked so hard to earn,” said Palin. “First thing you do if you’re in a hole is you stop digging. As president, John will impose a spending freeze to cover all but the most vital functions of government, like worker retraining.” The Alaskan Governor later criticized Obama’s intentions to increase taxes by 14 percent for the upper-middle class. Michael Ford, a New Hampshire resident who attended the Palin rally with his wife and three children, said, “I don’t think it is fair that Obama is offering tax relief for some tax brackets, but not for all tax brackets. McCain will offer tax breaks for all [tax] brackets.” “I feel safe with Palin in office because I can relate to her,” said Maria Ford, Ford’s wife. In response to criticisms about Obama’s 14 percent tax increase for the upper-middle class, Vater said, “We are trying to help people not hurt people. Everyone is going to have to make sacrifices to turn our economy around.” With nearly 80,000 undecided voters, Rockingham County’s votes will matter. And New Hampshire’s four electoral votes can determine an election.