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Jim Kenyon: Signs of the Times

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Published: 11/9/2016 2:19:20 AM
Modified: 11/9/2016 3:12:18 PM

Even with polls indicating the presidential race in New Hampshire was a toss-up heading into Election Day, Vicki Schwaegler didn’t want to risk it. No Donald Trump signs for her.
Schwaegler, a Republican candidate for the New Hampshire House, stood outside Orford’s town offices on Tuesday afternoon, gripping a tall double-sided pole with GOP campaign signs: Chris Sununu for governor; Bob Guida for state Senate and Joe Kenney for Executive Council, to name a few.

But no Trump.

“There are people who dislike Trump so intensely; we just want to keep the peace,” Schwaegler said.

In neighboring Piermont, Dawn Binford campaigned for her husband, David, a Republican seeking an open Haverhill-area House seat, outside the town’s Route 10 polling site. She brought along signs for an array of GOP candidates, sans Trump. Why?

“I don’t think we’re distancing ourselves,” Binford said. “If I had one, I’d put it right here.”

Binford and Schwaegler both told me that Trump signs were in short supply because his detractors had spent recent months defacing or absconding with them.

It sounded a lot like a my-dog-ate-my-homework excuse. But in this divisive national election, I guess it probably makes sense for GOP candidates to remain closet Trump supporters for as long as they can.

Down-ballot Republican candidates in the Democratic-leaning Upper Valley had to perform an awkward dance, a la U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, this fall. They wanted to be good Republicans, but they didn’t necessarily want to be associated with the party’s standard-bearer.

So when voters asked Schwaegler who she supported, what did she say?

“I tell them that I’m not voting for Hillary. I’m voting for someone who shares my values.”

When it came time to cast her ballot in Orford, Schwaegler said she went with Trump. But I get why she wasn’t eager to broadcast it.

In challenging longtime state Rep. Susan Ford, of Easton, for the Grafton County District 3 seat, Schwaegler needed to sway more than just GOP voters. (As of 9 p.m. Tuesday, final results were not in.)

Like much of the Upper Valley, the House district that includes the Upper Valley towns of Orford and Piermont, along with Bath, Benton, Easton, Landaff and Warren contains a sizable amount of undeclared voters.

In Orford, for instance, Republicans held a 236-221 edge in registered voters on the eve of the election. But 397 of the town’s 854 registered voters were undeclared.

No sense in potentially alienating half the town.

On Tuesday, retirees Chuck Otto and Porter Miller of the Orford Democratic Committee also stood outside the town’s polling place with signs representing the party’s various candidates. Clinton was among them.

Although Clinton may not be wildly popular with many undeclared voters and some Democrats, it didn’t occur to them to leave her out. “In my mind, omitting her sign would say more than having it,” Otto told me.

In Haverhill, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 2-to-1 in registered voters, Lyndon State College sophomore Dylan Farr clung to a Clinton sign for most of the morning.

“Do you live in town?” a woman asked, a not-so-subtle way of checking whether he was a Democratic plant.

“Yes, I do,” Farr replied.

Charlotte Holt asked Farr if she could take a photo of her going-on-age-2 daughter with the Hillary sign. Holt would be careful with whom she shared it with, though.

“Most of my friends are Republicans,” she told me. “We don’t talk politics. I’m afraid we wouldn’t be friends if we did.”

On Tuesday morning, I found only one Trump sign stuck in the ground outside Haverhill’s polling place. Apparently, that was one more Trump sign than had been visible before a woman retrieved one from her lawn to avoid a complete shutout.

“I don’t understand it, especially in this town,” said Sandy Holden-Knapp, a retired nursing administrator.

Holden-Knapp had just come from Piermont, where someone outside the polls tried to persuade her to vote for Trump.

“I’m only here for the bake sale,” she told him, before driving to Haverhill to cast her ballot for Clinton.

For kicks, I continued my search for Trump signs in Hanover. (In 2012, President Obama beat Romney 5,469 to 1,727.)

Outside the town’s polling site at Hanover High, Dartmouth senior Alex Przeslawski held up an Ayotte sign. “I’ve had a few people give a thumbs up,” he said, “and I’ve had some scowls.”

I’d hate to think what might have happened if he’d brought along a Trump sign. Which was really not much of a consideration since the Dartmouth College Republicans club didn’t endorse him.

At Lebanon United Methodist Church, home of the city’s Ward II voting place, Mike Balog proudly displayed a “Trump 2016” sign.

So much for my closet theory.

“He’s at the top of the Republican Party’s banner,” said Balog, the only GOP candidate to go up against the city’s four Democratic incumbent House members. “He beat all the professional politicians in the primaries. He deserves all of our respect.”

To whatever extent he received that respect from most Upper Valley Republicans, it wasn’t of the visible variety.


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