Barack Obama and John McCain were the official winners of a scientifically bereft poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday among voters across the Vineyard. But as Iowa kicked off the 2008 primary elections last night, the informal going over of this Island’s body politic found a pulse palpitating in fits and starts.
“Where were these people during the trials and tribulations of the past few years?” asked one Oak Bluffs voter who wished to remain anonymous and is considering a no-vote. “They were in the Senate. And they didn’t stop a thing,” the voter added.
“None of them have said anything to give me any confidence in them,” agreed another exasperated voter in Chilmark.
One Edgartown voter plans to write Michael Bloomberg in the margins while another respondent jokingly proposed Tristan Israel for President (Mr. Israel is a Tisbury selectman and county commissioner). “I’m just going to put Not Giuliani on my ballot,” was all that one Tisbury Republican would offer.
The Gazette telephoned more than 125 registered voters; 113 responded to the question of who they would vote for today. Most gave the nod to the Democratic hopeful Senator Obama. The second highest count across the two principal parties was undecided, with the majority in Oak Bluffs.
“How can we export democracy when we don’t have it here?” said a disaffected voter from that town. “You know ‘I’m going to take care of the middle class,’ ” she continued, referring to the John Edwards battle cry. “How the hell are you going to do that? I mean, tell us. Actually say something . . . I’m trying to listen.”
The Vineyard has 11,911 registered voters. Registered Republicans are in the distinct minority at 1,144, while registered Democrats number 4,195. The largest voter group is unenrolled (6,135) — or independent with no party affiliation.
Not all voters are blighted by indecision. “If I was voting today? Obama,” said one West Tisbury Democrat. “I don’t know why really. I suppose it’s just because he’s not a [expletive deleted].” Another voter, a registered Republican in Vineyard Haven, asked to be read a list of potential candidates from both parties before decisively plucking out John Edwards, a Democrat.
The vast majority of those surveyed on the Island said that they would vote for Obama today, but the real moment of truth arrives on Feb. 5.
Massachusetts holds an open primary election, which means that unenrolled voters are free to cast their vote in any party. Registered Democrats and Republicans interested in cross-party voting will have until Jan. 16 to change their status.
Of course the most decisive votes are cast in states which vote first. Iowa voters also benefit from one-on-one candidate time and weeks of live community discussion.
“I’m just watching all about this now, and trying to make up my mind,” said a Vineyard Haven voter contacted on Wednesday evening, as she negotiated news footage of Iowa caucus preparation punctuated by the relentless campaign messages of candidates. “I can’t wait till all these ads stop.”
One Vineyard Haven voter chose Mrs. Clinton but admitted he would be voting for familiarity. “We’re pathetic,” he said, implicating the Island as a whole. “It’s like the Kennedy era when I was growing up, you just go with what you know. But Clinton then again, is a machine that knows how to be President.”
John Edwards, who placed third in the unscientific Gazette poll, behind Mrs. Clinton, has the support of photographer Peter Simon, an armchair — or bathtub — pundit. “The thing is I loved the Bill Clinton administration, I think they were the best years we had while I’ve been alive,” Mr. Simon said, speaking via telephone from the bath yesterday morning. “But there’s something about Hillary that bothers me. She’s like a grammar school teacher and I’m not comfortable being around hard-edged people. Basically I don’t want to stare at her for eight years. And then with Obama I like everything he has to say and he wants to do the right thing but he don’t think he’s a heavyweight yet. It’s like he’s still in college to me. Edwards, I’m comfortable with, he shines. I don’t expect him to get the nomination though.”
Dennis Kucinich notched up a couple of votes here. “I love everything he does and everything he thinks,” said one emphatic first time voter from West Tisbury. “Also, he’s a vegan.”
The only polled Bill Richardson fan came from the same household. “He’s a fine citizen and it would nice to have someone who can speak Spanish,” the voter said.
Sen. John McCain was the firm favorite as a Republican choice among those polled, with voters citing conviction and experience as key factors in his appeal. Three votes for ex-Massachusetts Gov, Mitt Romney put him in front of just two for Rudolph Giuliani, who has been the Republican front runner in nationwide polls.
Vineyard clerk of courts and Republican voter Joseph E. Sollitto Jr. of Chilmark favors the man described by some as America’s mayor. “Giuliani was the mayor of New York and he is an administrator,” Mr. Sollitto said yesterday via telephone. “He ran New York successfully. Senators and Republicans, they task legislation but they don’t run things. If I was a Democrat, I’d vote for Richardson. Governors make good presidents.” Mr. Sollitto feels that however undecided they are, Vineyarders take their vote seriously because they have the experience of individual electoral clout.
“Our local system of government is impressive. We run ourselves,” he said, adding, “I’ll vote on the 5th.”