The past four years have split the country nearly in half — last-moment national opinion polls before Tuesday’s election show President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in a dead heat.
Colorado, one of the country’s important swing states, could to help decide who will assume the White House. The Gazette spoke with nearly a dozen local voters about the election, the presidential candidates, along with various state and national issues.
There are plenty of dedicated Republicans and Democrats whose minds were made up well in advance of the election, but there are also plenty who say they are torn or simply don’t care.
One particular phrase came unbidden from Springs residents’ mouths: that they were voting for “the lesser of two evils.”
Support and opposition for Colorado issues such as Amendment 64, which would legalize marijuana, ran the gamut.
There were similar bipartisan splits on El Paso County tax ballot measures 1A and 5A, to raise money for the county sheriff’s office and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
Here’s a small sampling of the conversations had with Colorado Springs voters, along with a few from the surrounding area.
Mark Shadle hasn’t voted yet. There are pros and cons that he sees in both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, on all sorts of issues.
“It’s a hard decision,” Shadle said.
When asked what his top issues are, Shadle immediately responded, “efficiency and less government.”
Romney is better on the economy and job creation, Shadle said, but said he’s also part of the “1 percent” that doesn’t have a realistic connection to the middle class.
“There’s no reason to help the ultra-rich,” Shadle said.
But, he added, Obama has saddled the private sector with government regulations and hampered job creation.
“Any time government gets involved in business, it either stifles it or corrals it,” Shadle argued. “I don’t have a deep belief that the president can help us.”
Roripaugh’s two-year-old daughter, Lexi, had a heart transplant. And because her husband is a military police officer at Schriever Air Force Base, she’s deathly afraid of scheduled budget cuts to the military — cuts that Obama initially supported during budget negotiations, but now insists will not happen.
“It’s a really scary thing to think about, not having insurance to help with her health,” Roripaugh said, holding her daughter to her chest.
So Roripaugh changed her registration from Democrat to Republican, and instead of voting for Obama like she did in 2008, she’s supporting Romney.
“All this ‘hope and change,’ I haven’t really seen any change,” Roripaugh said.
Meanwhile, she said she supports Amendment 64, the state ballot measure that would legalize marijuana. It would dedicate $40 million in state income from marijuana sales to education, a possibility that Roripaugh likes.
“If they’re going to do it anyway, they might as well get some funding from it,” she said.
Retired education administrator
“He’s a kook,” Ruskamp said of Romney. “Just look at his eyes. He’s a liar.”
Ruskamp said Romney caters to the far right, while Obama has done a good job on such things as health care reform and relations with Iran.
“The only thing I’ll fault Obama on is they have not educated the public,” Ruskamp said, referring to complex issues such as the economy and the job market.
“I’m honestly scared of Romney,” Ruskamp added.
Ruskamp said the Republican candidate is ignorant on foreign policy and when it comes to international relations.
“He wants us to be an island. You can’t do that,” he said.
Terry “Dusty” England
Installer for CenturyLink
“I wouldn’t vote for Obama if you put a gun to my head,” England said. “I was voting for anyone who was running against Obama.”
England said Obama has expanded the federal government’s power and has abused the power of the presidency. Obama, he said, mishandled the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya, and pushed health care reform.
Though England isn’t a huge fan of Romney’s — “I was voting for anyone who was running against Obama,” — he does like Romney’s business background.
“He has a grasp on how to turn this country around,” England said.
England also has a Libertarian streak in him. He supports the legalization of marijuana because he believes people should be allowed to smoke pot if they want to.
“It’s a waste of time and money to enforce those neanderthal laws,” he said of marijuana being illegal. “I mean, what’s the difference if you sit in your backyard and drink a beer or smoke a joint? They’re both going to impair you.”
Retired railroad worker
“We’ve already seen what happened with baby Bush, and I don’t think anyone would like to see an intensification of that,” Kirchner said, comparing Romney to former Republican President George W. Bush.
Kirchner volunteers for the Obama campaign in Fountain, where she’s lived for 12 years. Though she said she doesn’t like how the campaign has become “snippy,” she’s still a staunch Obama supporter.
The thing that’s most impressed her about the president, she said, is his character.
“He’s got a lot of integrity, and has made a lot of hard choices. When he supported that mosque being built by Ground Zero in New York, he stood up for religious freedom,” Kirchner said, referring to a controversial Islamic center erected near where the Twin Towers fell in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
Kirchner said of Romney, “He doesn’t care about regular people. Only about his own kind, the elitists.”
She’s split on the two local tax issues, though — 1A and 5A. The sheriff’s department doesn’t need any more funding, she said, but roads in El Paso County could use some extra work.
Retired ministry worker
Chamley said she supports Romney.
“He’s the lesser of two evils,” Chamley said.
Chamley said she’s worried what Obama will do to her family and the country.
Chamley’s husband is an insurance agent, and she said that after health care reform was passed, the two of them read the bill line by line to make sure they knew what they were dealing with.
“There was one ‘oh my gosh’ after another,” Chamley said, shaking her head. “People don’t realize that this is going to have a huge cost as it’s rolled out.”
Chamley isn’t against the government per se, though. For example, she supports El Paso County ballot measures 1A and 5A. The two measures would raise the sales and use tax for the county sheriff’s office and extend taxpayer funding for the PPRTA to work on more transportation projects.
“I looked at the long list of roads, and it’s going to affect me, so I was like, ‘Absolutely, that’s worth the money,’” Chamley said.
Southeast Colorado Springs
Owner of Bustillos Appliances
Rodriguez is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, but he’s been in the United States for more than 14 years. He’s been a legal resident for several years, and his vote goes to the president.
“Romney, he doesn’t like Hispanic people. A lot of my friends are scared he’ll close all the doors (on the Mexican border),” Rodriguez said.
Immigration is easily Rodriguez’s No. 1 issue.Obama has earned ongoing support in the Hispanic community, Rodriguez said, for supporting the so-far-unsuccessful Dream Act, which would help the children of illegal immigrants get into college and become legal residents.
Romney opposes the bill.
“There are 14 million people here illegally. If you let them stay here legally, the economy would go up,” Rodriguez said.
Central Colorado Springs
Operations manager at Promenade Shops at Briargate
“Romney’s the lesser of two evils. I’m a Ron Paul man, so he’s the next step up,” Biederman said.
Ron Paul, a Texas congressman and Libertarian hero, ran for the Republican presidential nomination this year, but lost.
Biederman holds standard Libertarian views.
“Democrats are more about big government and big taxes, and Obama is the epitome of that,” Biederman said. “All the bureaucratic agencies they have in this country, most of them aren’t needed.”
The same is true at the local level, he said, and railed against El Paso County ballot issues 1A and 5A, tax measures for the sheriff’s office and PPRTA.
“We just have to be patient and wait for the economy to recover. If we just keep increasing taxes more over the years, they’re probably not going to come back down,” he said.
“If they prioritize better and move some things around, we’ll have enough money,” Biederman concluded.
Northeast Colorado Springs
Student at Nazarene Bible College
Not a registered voter
“I don’t get into it. Both sides are roughly the same,” said the 31-year-old Taylor. “It’s really more of a PR thing.”
Taylor said he is not interested in any of the local ballot measures, or any other political issue.
“I just think with the economy, they can’t really change anything,” he said. “I don’t even know how to get registered.”
Taylor said his father, his brother, and all his friends get mad at him because they vote and are interested in politics, and that he jokingly starts arguments with them occasionally.
“God’s going to take care of what He’ll take care of,” Taylor said. “I’ll be glad when it’s over.”
Business Owner, Poppy Seed family clothing store
Hensley has a “Yes on 64” campaign sign in the front window of his Manitou Springs shop, Poppy Seed, but declined to say who he voted for in the presidential election.
“Local politics is more important than global,” Hensley said, noting his campaign sign. “Manitou has had its own issues, like the Waldo Canyon fire.”
But, he added, “When politicians divide the community, it’s time to change out the politicians.”
Hensley said the central problem nationally is the economy, which has affected everyone. And by association, he’s felt it, too.
“Isn’t everybody suffering from this?” he asked. “The downturn has been really harsh.”
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