Primary voters size up Obama and Clinton

Image: Kapi Singh
Financial manager Kapi Singh cast his Democratic primary vote for Barack Obama in West Chester, Pa. on Tuesday morningTom Curry /

It was 6:48 a.m., twelve minutes before the doors opened at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa.

And Kapi Singh, one of Pennsylvania’s 4.2 million registered Democratic voters, was waiting to cast his ballot for Sen. Barack Obama.

“We want a whole different change of politician who will look at things in a different way,” said Singh, a financial manager at Astra Zeneca in Wilmington, Del.

“We know pretty much how Hillary Clinton will do; She will also get a lot of things done, except that there will be animosity and fights and all that.”

Last year Singh considered supporting Sen. Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination. “He was pretty high on my list, but he didn’t survive.” Singh especially liked Biden because “he has very extensive experience in foreign affairs and he has a clean record.”

The value of experience: Obama, Cheney, Rumsfeld
“Obama does not have the same kind of experience (as Biden), however he is very intelligent and a very level-headed person,” he said.

Then Singh chuckled ruefully as he added, “We have seen that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had much experience — and what a disaster they created.”

While Obama’s mellow persona has helped him get as far as he has, Singh said he wants to see Obama being “more assertive — because the world is a tough place. Despite your best intentions, you probably have to be stronger. But that is something people grow into.”

Clinton voter Jim Hurley in West Chester, Pa.Tom Curry

A few minutes after Singh voted for Obama, Jim Hurley stopped by to cast his vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton.

We interviewed Hurley on Saturday as Clinton and Obama canvassers worked their way thorough his neighborhood in West Chester. He had promised the Clinton canvassers on Saturday that he’d show up to vote for her and at 7:15 a.m.

And he was as good as his word.

“I just have more knowledge about Hillary,” he said. On Saturday, as he was doing some repairs on his house, Hurley had explained his support for Clinton by saying, “No matter what I have to get fixed around my house, if I know the person fixing it has been doing it a long time, I go with that person.”

A McCain voter shows up at the polls
Miriam Khatib, a senior manager for Ernst & Young, showed up with her three-year old and eight-month old sons to vote for Sen. John McCain, even though he’d already locked up the Republican nomination.

“My husband is British, and not a U.S. citizen, so he strongly encourages me to vote at every opportunity.”

Looking ahead to November, Khatib said, “I would be undecided if it’s Obama versus McCain. But Hillary versus McCain, I’d go for McCain. I still want to learn a little more about Obama. What I’ve heard of him so far I like, but I need to understand more of the issues.”

Khatib said she liked McCain because of his views on abortion and taxes  — which happen to be exactly at odds with Obama’s stances on abortion and taxes.

“I know Obama wants to take some of the tax cuts away from the wealthy and I also know he wants to have a lot of programs that eventually would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for things such as universal health care. So that’s worrisome for me,” she said.

A few minutes after Khatib cast her McCain vote, Sinead O’Dwyer Kasch, a buyer for David’s Bridal, a bridal boutique in Conshohocken, Pa., showed up to vote for Clinton.

A 'huge fan' of the Clintons
“I’m just a huge fan of the Clintons. I loved Bill Clinton and I love her as well. I’d like to see a female in office.”

Kasch considered voting for Obama “but in the end I think she might be stronger internationally as well as she’ll have that support from Bill Clinton.”

Emilie Gardner, with her son Mason, voted for Hillary Clinton on TuesdayTom Curry

Kasch said if Clinton loses the nomination, she’ll vote for Obama in November.

Sometimes, the crucial factor for a voter is not the candidate’s eloquence or his position on a specific issue, but simply excessive “oversell” by his campaign.

“I voted for Hillary. I was on the fence about both. I like both of them in what they said, but the decisive fact was that this week we got pretty much junk mail from Obama every day — five pieces,” complained Emilie Gardner, holding her 16-month old son Mason in her arms.

The Obama avalanche in her mailbox, she said, “was really what it came down to: He spent all this money wasting paper when you’re supposed to be for the environment.”

She was also miffed that Obama canvassers came to her door on Monday. “I don’t really like that because we had a ‘no solicitation’ sign on the front door.”

Obama and the lapel pin
She added, “There’s a lot of things about Obama that I don’t like — that he won’t salute the flag and that he doesn’t wear the American flag on his lapel.”

If Obama is the Democratic candidate in November, Gardner said, “I would have a really hard time voting for him. I would probably switch. When McCain ran the first time (in 2000) I switched parties to vote for him in the primary.” But she added, “I don’t like how McCain feels about the war and abortion.”

On the other hand, she admires McCain for saying that not every home buyer who can’t meet his mortgage payments should be bailed out by the federal government.

“If they knew what they were getting themselves into then we shouldn’t be bailing them out,” she said.

In contrast to Gardner, Democrat Nancy Schill in Malvern, Pa. just down the road from West Chester, said, “Hillary kind of turns me off. She’s too pugnacious, I guess you could say. I don’t like the way her campaign has been run. I used to be kind of ambivalent toward her. I never disliked her, but at this point we’re really ready for a change. I’m sick of her already — and she’s not in office yet.”

Nonetheless Schill said she would vote for Hillary Clinton in November if she were the nominee. “I’m a Democrat; I would never vote for John McCain.”

A bellwether county in November
The Chester County results Tuesday night will be a revealing test of Obama’s appeal not only among Democrats, but among centrist Republicans in what may be a very competitive county in the November election.

Obama supporter Nancy Schill in Malvern, Pa.Tom Curry

Chester County has not gone Democratic in a presidential election since Lyndon Johnson buried Barry Goldwater in the 1964 landslide.

But since the beginning of the year, the Democrats gained 18,010 Chester County voters, with nearly two-thirds of them coming from Republicans crossing over to register as Democrats.

Although some Chester County Democrats worry it was simply a Rush Limbaugh-inspired effort to meddle in the Democratic primary by encouraging Republicans to switch their registration, some Republicans interviewed Tuesday seem genuinely interested in Obama and Clinton.

In Malvern, Pa., registered Republicans Rose Marie Venditti and her husband Frank showed up at the First Baptist Church to vote in local elections but were willing to ponder the November election.

"I am undecided. I just know it’s not going to be McCain for the same old war effort,” said Rose Marie. She said she would probably vote for the Democratic candidate on Nov. 4 “unless they would come up with something that was against what I believe in.” Pressed on what that “something” might be Venditti was non-specific. “Just something that doesn’t strike my fancy.”

Venditti said she did not vote for President Bush either in 2004 or 2000 but still considers herself a Republican and named Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., as one Republican she admired. 

Her husband Frank said he would probably vote for Clinton in November if she is the Democratic nominee.

But as for Obama, Frank Venditti said, “I don’t think he has enough experience. He hasn’t been around long enough to be president. It’s the toughest job in the world. I think he’s only the junior senator from Illinois, if I remember correctly.”