For the most part, the group of older men drinking coffee at McDonald’s in this Androscoggin River town have known one another since they were kids — and now, as graybeards, find themselves split on the 2020 presidential campaign.
Two won’t vote. “I can’t take care of my own damn business anymore, so how can I take care of the other stuff?” asked Ed Drew, 88.
Ninety-six-year-old Glenn, who wouldn’t give his last name, remained standing the entire time the wise-cracking seniors talked politics. The secret of his durability? Simple, he said: “Not being a Democrat.”
“The Trump family makes the Gambino Family look like Boy Scouts,” declared the youngster of the group, a 76-year-old who declined to give either a first or last name. So whom is he for? “A stick with a hat on it would be better than what we have now,” he replied.
But he agreed with 82-year-old Mark Tilton, a retired teacher and coach, who likes Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts but thinks former vice president Joe Biden offers the best chance to beat Trump. And that’s their bottom line.
Which was a sentiment I heard over and over during a day talking to voters in northern New Hampshire: Choosing someone who can oust Trump is vital. And that calculus may be boosting Biden.
In the dazzling downtown of Littleton, Megan Mays, a late-50s craftswoman who normally favors progressives like Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, said she was seriously considering Biden “because of the stronger probability he could beat out Trump.”
“Electability is the biggest thing right now,” she said.
Katie, 34, who works in retail, also favored Biden, for his resilience.
“He has been through so much tragedy, and he doesn’t give up,” she said.
My conversations revealed a reservoir of affection for the former vice president, even among those who preferred someone else. Only a couple of the 20 or more I spoke with seemed put off by him.
“He’s the epitome of a good old boy,” said Whitney Westhelle, 38, of Portsmouth, who had just finished a day of skiing with a friend at Cannon Mountain. Westhelle, who likes Warren but is also interested in Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, had a similarly succinct take on Sanders: “He is a little bit like a mad professor.”
Not to fellow social worker Lindsey Mogren, 39, who “leans toward socialist values” and so likes Sanders. Still, she is also considering Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind.
“He is more electable and maybe more palatable to people who don’t want what we have now but aren’t ready to swing to the other end of the pendulum,” she explained.
Most voters I talked with were impressed by Buttigieg, but several said they considered him a figure for the future and not the right choice this time around.
Electability concerns came up in several discussions of Warren. Reasons ranged. The country is too sexist to elect a woman; she’s too liberal; or, according to one member of the Gorham kaffeeklatsch, “too frenetic.”
Still, in one case, electability is working in her favor. Ellen Cronin, 56, a former journalist, voted for Sanders in 2016 but is now strongly leaning toward Warren while also eyeing Biden. Her reason for abandoning Bernie: Her party needs a true Democrat to lead it into the fall election.
Another name on some younger voters’ lips was businessman Andrew Yang.
Of the two Plymouth State University students I found who were New Hampshire residents and planned to vote in the primary, both were for Yang. Twenty-year-old Isabella Kuhn told me she had chosen him with the help of The Washington Post’s political matchmaking page. Asked whom they favored, the talkative member of another student trio offered: “Whoever will pay off our student loans.”
“I thank God that he is in office,” said Martineau. “He has accomplished so much.” Like what? Like trying to stop other countries from taking advantage of America on trade, he said.
As for impeachment, it was complete farce, he declared.
A possible clue as to why he thinks so: “I only listen to Fox,” Martineau said. “If I listened to the liberal media, I would be brainwashed.”