Walpole voters

Kathryn Kiely and William Cadmus share a moment while voting at Walpole Town Hall Tuesday. The pair are engaged to be married.

Susan Holland’s face was frozen in a scowl as she walked toward the exit of the Harrisville Town Offices Tuesday, a scowl that seemingly defined her mood amid the midday fog that hugged the building.

“It feels different,” she said of voting in the 2020 edition of the N.H. Primary. “I’m scared. I’m deeply concerned about the state of our country. I’m about to turn 80 and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

She wasn’t alone. Many Democratic voters said fear accompanied them to the polls Tuesday, a fear that President Donald Trump will be re-elected and the country will never be the same. Today’s divisiveness, they said, would be exacerbated under four more years of Trump and democracy itself would be at risk.

Uncertainty was another common trait among Democratic voters. Many said they sought a candidate who best-represented their interests yet was strong enough to beat Trump. Many voters said they were undecided on who to back even as they sipped their morning coffee. But when they walked into the polls, mirroring her surge across the state, the name that kept coming up in the Monadnock Region was Amy Klobuchar. Sure enough, she roared to a solid third-place finish after languishing in the middle of the pack in most pre-primary polls.

And so the primary caravan — candidates, supporters, national press and the white-hot spotlight — packed up late Tuesday night and early Wednesday, next stops, Nevada and South Carolina. New Hampshire has again fired the traditional starting gun, and Granite State voters gave Democrats plenty to think about in anointing Bernie Sanders the early frontrunner, while propping up Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar as candidates to seriously consider. Meanwhile, they turned away from Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and culled the field with several candidates dropping out in the last 24 hours.

Michael Bloomberg? We’ll watch that plot line from afar. We get a breather from the persistent knocks on the door, constant phone calls and airways saturated with political ads.

By today, the red, white and blue bunting adorning area town halls will be stored, voting booths folded up, registration tables broken down. Folding chairs stacked tightly against the walls, out of the way, will be unfolded for next month’s town meetings. Or, as Betsey Church, supervisor of the checklist in Nelson said, “Back to the Monday night contra dances.”

It wasn’t difficult to pick up on the pervading gloom among many voters in this year’s primary. Winston Sims of Harrisville has been involved in community service most of his life, from The Community Kitchen of Keene to working internationally as an administrator with the American Friends Service Committee and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Today, he’s chairman of the Harrisville Conservation Commission.

Sims jokes that a Monadnock Profile written about him by The Sentinel in 2002 helped convince a woman he met on Match.com in 2003 to go out on a date. It went well: Sherry and Winston Sims have been married for 15 years. But Sims stops joking when talking about the presidential election.

“I think the whole state of democracy is at stake,” he said. “I think it’s undergone more erosion in the last three years than any time in our history. It’s going to take a lot to recoup what has already eroded.”

Sims said the crowded Democratic field didn’t bother him; on the contrary, it gives voters options. “I think there are so many candidates, and such worthy candidates, it’s almost a sense of relief. It’s not as if you have to choose between the devil and the deep, blue sea.”

Ted and Wendy Pearre of Harrisville are retired school administrators who worked in West Newton, Mass. Ted Pearre said this year’s primary felt different for a number of reasons, including media saturation. A heavy media presence has always been a part of the primary, he said, yet the omnipresence of social media clouds facts from fiction and gives voters challenges they’re unsure how to navigate.

“It feels different in the urgent call to get out the vote,” said Pearre, adding that voters have been “bombarded” with candidate ads and “bludgeoned” by their causes such as climate change and health care. Thus, even though he’s glad the primary caravan is moving on, the messaging is not leaving social media. It’ll be constant from now until November, he says.

“Is it a bad thing?” he repeats. “Yes and no. Issues are important and that’s good. It’s bad because we are being twisted and manipulated by social media posts. … Really, we are gullible. We’re looking to find people we agree with on issues that are not factually based, at which point we become acolytes.”

Maureen Meyer of Stoddard, a librarian at the Fuller School in Keene, also said it does not feel like a normal primary, that the stakes are higher. “I feel more scared because you have no idea what other people are liking and thinking. You have no control,” she says. At school, staff don’t discuss politics at all, and it didn’t used to be that way. “It’s become so divisive you can’t talk openly these days,” Meyer said. “And that’s sad.”

Like many voters, she said she didn’t decide who to vote for basically until she pulled into the snow-covered Stoddard Town Hall parking lot. She went with Klobuchar.

Nelson Selectman Chairman David Upton said he waited later than that, making up his mind as he walked from the registration table to the voting booth. “This one’s been really tough because there are many good candidates out there,” Upton said. It was an ad he saw over the weekend that solidified his choice, “that little click at the end,” though he wasn’t revealing his choice.

Not all was gloomy. Ralph and Dianna Castor of Nelson said they were fired up about voting, though not about the divisiveness in the country. He said he’d love to see all members of Congress subject to term limits, no different than the president. “All I hope is that everything goes smoothly and nothing happens,” he said of the primary.

Bonnie Willette and Alison Weber of Harrisville were also upbeat. “You finally have a voice other than just listening to the blah, blah, blah,” Willette said. Weber added, “I won’t miss the circus. It will be a quiet phone.”