Awakened voters demand answers, voice disgust at attack-style politics

November 03, 1992|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Staff Writer

First, go back to where it all began, to the granite hills of New Hampshire, where summer came and went without thawing the economy, and new snow has already dusted doorsteps and driveways. The primary election that shoved the presidential campaign into motion is nearly nine months in the past, but jobs remain as scarce as magnolia blossoms, and voters still yearn for help.

Next check in on Mississippi, where the political hoopla of the Super Tuesday primaries rumbled across the Delta last winter. Voters then spoke of trust, taxes and getting things moving, and with their final choice coming due they're pondering the same issues.

Finally, pay a visit to the city of Rochester in western New York, the state where the Democrats fought a pitched battle of blood, bile and tabloid ink in the presidential primary last spring. Now, voters have grown just as tired of the most recent wave of attack politics.

The Sun visited those three locations last winter and spring to talk with voters. At the time, Texas billionaire Ross Perot was just beginning to heat up his talk-show flirtation, Democrat Bill Clinton was an also-ran in national polls, and the voters themselves were shuddering at the prospect of another long, dreary campaign.

But then something happened out there. The voters awakened. They asked questions. They demanded answers. And even if they never quite warmed up to any of the three major candidates, they paid attention like never before.

That was the assessment of those same voters when The Sun contacted them during the past few days. While still pessimistic for the future and about politicians in general, they've lost some of their distaste for an electoral system they'd all but given up on, although the intense attacks of the last few weeks have left them longing for the end.

"I was pleased with it up until this last week or two," Rochester accountant Bobby J. Anderson said of the campaign. "Now there seems to be a bit of desperation there."

Janna Dewitt, a laid-off loan officer in Milford, N.H., said, "I was satisfied in that the economy was made the big issue. . . . But by this point in the campaign, even more than in past years, I'm just sick of the whole process. It's gotten ridiculous lately."

Most credit Mr. Perot with helping keep the rhetoric focused on the issues for as long as it was. "I really can't take him seriously," said Walter Robinson, a New Hampshire bookseller, "but I think he's done one thing neither Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton would do, and that's discuss the deficit."

Ken Adcock, a home salesman in Jackson, Miss., said, "I think without Ross Perot they might not have addressed the issues like they have. He tickles the hell out of me. I loved him in the debates."

But in the end, even Mr. Perot was just as wacky as a typical politician, some said.

When Mr. Perot said that he dropped out of the race because he thought Republican dirty tricksters would disrupt his daughter's wedding, "My first thought was, what if he was president and Saddam [Hussein] said, 'Well, we're going to do something to your daughter.' " said Ron Szarek, who owns a printing business in Manchester, N.H.

As a result, most of the voters no longer think of Mr. Perot a realistic choice.

Some of the voters were pleased with the more open style of this year's campaign, with its talk shows, town-meeting debate and bus caravans.

"I think it's a good thing -- the town meetings, the bus trips, all of it," Mr. Adcock said. "Anything that gets them out there close to the people is a good idea.

"It was kind of funky," Ms. Dewitt said. "Every time I turned on "Good Morning America" and Phil Donahue these guys were all over the place."

But this new style of campaigning seemed to work against Mr. Bush, some said.

"Don't you think it's been a little bit demeaning for the president to have to do all that?" asked John McDonough, a Jackson, Miss., landlord.

Mr. Bush's behavior during the final weeks of the campaign, when he stepped up his attacks on Mr. Clinton, also bothered some, including his supporters.

"As a businessman I was going to stick with Bush, and probably will," Mr. Szarek said. "But I'm almost embarrassed at the way he's acting. The comments that he's made in the last few weeks or so, he really doesn't look like a presidential candidate. 'Bozos?' I could see a truck driver saying that, but when you're president you've got to keep your cool."

But the Bush attacks apparently were successful in creating discomfort about Mr. Clinton.

"I just cannot bring myself to think he [Mr. Clinton] is an honest man," Mr. McDonough said. "To me he's like a loud-mouthed kid in a bar who's had too many drinks. The first person who stands up to him, he's going to walk out the door and go someplace else."

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