Lukewarm reception for Romney in New Hampshire

Tom Benner

Boston Red Sox sweatshirts and caps are big in this southern New Hampshire town, not too far from the border with Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney served four years as governor.

But Romney's name recognition, and the millions he spent hoping for a decisive win in the first-in-the-nation primary, seemed to matter little as Derry residents flocked to the polls.

With voters busily filing into the Gilbert Hood Middle School to cast their ballots, Maureen Heard stood outside holding a sign for Romney's Republican rival, John McCain.

A Coast Guard veteran, Heard sees McCain as the strongest candidate on national defense; besides, she didn't like Romney back when she lived in her native Lynn, Mass.

"I did not support him for the governorship, I thought he was doing it as a stepping stone," Heard said. "Don't run for governor and lose interest, and then badmouth Massachusetts when you're running for president."

Mary Langtry of Derry said her vote is her business as she emerged from a voting booth. But she made it plain that Romney wasn't her candidate.

"I just don't like the man," she said. "When you listen to him, he doesn't sound sincere."

Romney's frequent campaign stops in the Granite State's fourth most-populous town didn't impress Andrea Benoit, an independent voter who cast her ballot for Democrat Barack Obama.

“I thought he was cocky," Benoit said of Romney. "I didn't like his expressions, he had a kind of smirk. He looked like he was better than everybody else."

Jenny King of Derry, an independent voter who cast her vote for Obama, called Romney "too rigid, too hard core, and not all that compassionate toward people."

Even Romney's supporters showed some hesitancy. Romney stopped into Dana Langley's barbershop on Derry's main drag a few weeks ago, and Langley voted for him despite worries that Romney switched his positions on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and stem cell research.

"He seems to have changed his mind on some things," said Langley, who regularly votes Republican. "I have lingering doubts about that."

Said Bob Letourneau of Derry, a New Hampshire state senator who held a Romney sign outside the Gilbert Hill school: "He changed his mind on abortion. I'm glad he changed his mind. That doesn't make him a flip-flopper."

Marv Wargo, who owns a nutrition shore on Derry's main street, disagrees with a state law that Romney pushed requiring Massachusetts residents to have health insurance. But he voted for him anyway.

"What if you have to choose between your heating oil and your health premium?" Wargo said. "It really takes away our freedom."

On Monday, Romney stopped by Mary Ann's, Derry's popular 1950s-themed diner, with camera crews in tow. Waitress Jackie Stilley wasn't impressed.

"He just came in and shook hands with everyone," Stilley said. "When a candidate comes in, talk about something. He didn't."

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