Nancy Adams bought her fishing line this morning at Place in the Woods, an old trading post here, and was hopping back into her red pickup truck when she was asked to contemplate the political landscape.
Mrs. Adams, an energetic 70, is a lifelong Republican who voted for Senator John McCain in the 2000 primary and backs President Bush. But she is a bit lost when it comes to the current crop of eight candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
“I’m having a hard time sorting out all these candidates and what they think,” she said. “I liked McCain, but he’s losing ground too fast to win. I don’t know if it’s his age or the war.
“We’ll see what Thompson says,” she added, referring to former Senator Fred D. Thompson, who is expected to enter the race on Thursday.
Interviews with dozens of Republicans across the country this Labor Day weekend found that despite the already lengthy campaign, which started almost a year ago, many candidates have made either no impression or a negative one, and many voters are still chewing over their options.
“The Republicans need to get their spunk back,” said Leanne Stein, 41, who lives in Claridon, Ohio, and works at a retirement home.
So far, Ms. Stein said, Rudolph W. Giuliani has shown a bit.
“He’s got style, and he has firsthand experience with how to run government in a way that deals with terrorism,” she said. “But he needs someone to coach him on all the issues. All he talks about is terrorism. What about health care? What about education?”
By and large, those interviewed said they still supported Mr. Bush, but they were deeply ambivalent about the war in Iraq, leaving them ambivalent in turn about their party’s presidential candidates, most of whom have so far stuck close to Mr. Bush on the matter.
“What we’re going to do with the war is a big issue,” said Caleb McNew, 22, of Lakewood, Colo., who works in building maintenance.
Mr. McNew said he was leaning toward Mr. Giuliani, who as mayor of New York, he said, “did a pretty good job during Sept. 11.”
Some Republicans said they thought the field was strong despite the war.
They included Bryan and Nicole Goulet, who set up a front-row seat Monday with their 2-year-old daughter, Camryn, for the traditional Labor Day parade in Milford, N.H. The parade, under a sparkling blue sky, drew three presidential candidates: Mr. Romney and two Democrats, Senators Barack Obama and Christopher J. Dodd.
Mrs. Goulet, 37, a business development manager, said she liked both Mr. Romney, who is leading in the polls in New Hampshire and Iowa, and Mr. Giuliani, who is leading in the national polls.
She said she expected they would both “toe the party line” on Iraq, though her sister is a marine who is about to go to Iraq and “on a personal level, I’d love for her not to have to go.” In any event, she said, the war “is not the only issue,” and both Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani are good business executives. She said she might be leaning toward Mr. Giuliani, because he supports abortion rights.
Mr. Goulet, 38, a welder foreman, voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, then did not vote in the next two elections. He now likes Mr. McCain, because of his military background. “It’s tough to send troops somewhere if you haven’t been there yourself,” Mr. Goulet said.
Josh Schultz, 28, of Lancaster, Ohio, who drives a bulldozer and also works as a mechanic, said he was starting to like Mr. Romney “because he seems down to earth.”
Mr. Schultz said he also liked Mr. McCain, “but I don’t think he’ll make it; he’s been around a long time” and will have trouble attracting younger voters.
As for Mr. Giuliani, he has the benefit of having been mayor of New York, “where you have all different kinds of people from all over the world, unlike where I’m from, where it’s mostly all white people.”
Asked about Mr. Thompson, he replied: “Who’s that? Oh, that guy on TV? I haven’t heard much about him. I’ve been working too much to watch TV news.”
William Sedlak, 47, a flight attendant who lives in Aliso Viejo, Calif., said he liked Mr. Giuliani because “he’s conservative enough but he’s still a little liberal enough.”
Wayne Horton, 53, who works in construction as a house framer and lives in Burton, Ohio, has been mulling the field and has decided he likes Mr. Romney because he looks presidential, but worries that some people may oppose him because he is a Mormon.
Mr. Horton has pretty much ruled out the others:
“Giuliani, he’s pro-abortion,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that he’s a Republican front-runner. Giuliani’s children aren’t even supporting him. He’s had three wives. I don’t like that.”
And Mr. McCain cannot win because voters are looking for someone fresh, he said. “He never impressed me, anyway,” Mr. Horton said. “Plus, he comes from Arizona, where he let all the immigrants walk in with no repercussions.”
Mr. Thompson? “I really don’t know much about him. I’m not that informed. Really, I just rely on TV and what my wife tells me from reading the paper, and then we talk about it over supper. We’re out trying to make a living, so we rely on the media to tell us about the candidates’ qualifications.”
Kent Frisby, 53, who lives in Concord, Ohio, and works as the chief financial officer at a private high school, branded Mr. Giuliani a “womanizer.”
“He’s had three wives, and how many girlfriends?” Mr. Frisby said. “Yeah. No way.”
Caroll McLaughlin, 62, a medical assistant who lives in Auburn, Ohio, said of Mr. Giuliani: “He did a great job as mayor of New York. But he has a temper that needs to be controlled. And he’s not easy to get along with.”
She also said she liked Mike Huckabee, “because he’s not a Washington insider.”
Don Headley, 71, from Lakewood, Colo., like Mr. McNew, pronounced the current field mediocre but said he might vote for Mr. Romney, “if I was going to vote for somebody,” adding, “I think he’s probably the most straightforward, upstanding one of the bunch.”
Dave McMullen, 63, a dairy farmer in Warsaw, Ohio, said many of the candidates were not addressing the economy. He has taken a particular dislike to Mr. Romney.
“He’s not thinking about agriculture or the economy,” Mr. McMullen said. “We got so many foreclosures in my county. People are losing their jobs. All the big factories are moving down to Mexico, where they can get cheap labor. I don’t see Mitt Romney or any of them talking about that.”
Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Lakewood, Colo., Christopher Maag from Burton, Ohio, and Michael Parrish from Riverside, Calif.