Another in a weekly series on what Mainers across the state say about the race for the White House — and what they want from the next president.
LIMERICK – Mike Libby apologizes, but he did not bother to watch the presidential debate last week. He may catch up with it on YouTube. He may even tune in to the next debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on Oct. 16.
But probably not.
“It’s just rhetoric,” said Libby, 57, who is unsatisfied with what he’s heard from either major-party candidate. “I don’t see too much difference between the two main candidates. It probably won’t make too much different who wins. Neither one of them is talking about change. … We’re in serious trouble.”
Libby, who grows apples and berries on a you-pick farm in rural western York County, catches himself. He’s an optimistic person by nature, and he believes in the ability of the free market to address many of the economic and social issues that vex the country right now. He thinks there is enough wealth in America to go around, and enough smarts and savvy to solve many of society’s most pressing and divisive issues, including health care, poverty and energy.
He just wishes government would step aside and allow the private sector to flex its muscle and realize its potential.
“The amount of wealth we can create if set free is enormous,” said Libby, who lives in nearby Waterboro.
As he talks, the farmer maneuvers a four-wheeler over a bumpy path that winds among apple trees and high-bush blueberries. A steady rain falls, and mist rises from the hills that ring his 40-acre Libby & Son farm.
He employs a dozen folks seasonally, although he works year-round pruning and caring for his crops. He tends 10,000 blueberry bushes and 1,000 apple trees. He also grows peach trees.
Customers start showing up at his farm as early as late June to pick blueberries. Business steadily builds throughout the summer, and by fall he attracts 5,000 people on a good weekend.
A map on the wall of his store shows pins from every state in the country and many foreign countries, indicating the homes of his visitors. He is proud of his accomplishments, and enjoys his work.
“I started from nothing,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of money in the ground already.”
Libby has owned this farm for a decade, buying it from previous owners for whom he worked as a manager. He wants to plant more crops to add variety to attract more customers. He’s just unsure about making an investment right now. Taxes, regulations and the rising cost of fuel hold him back.
He has strong opinions, but feels ambivalent about the presidential race. He will support a candidate who has a plan to cut spending and reduce the size and power of government, and he bristled at the idea that a Romney administration would be good for fiscal policy. Romney might be better than Obama, he said, but don’t fool yourself. “Neither is advocating for any cuts. It’s just a decrease in the increase,” he said.
Down the road in Berwick, 65-year-old Jeff Walker hustles a wheelbarrow full of fallen apples through the rows of a small orchard. It’s not quite 11 a.m., and already he’s collected 500 pounds of apples from the ground.
Walker is used to hard work. A former contractor, he built houses in Maine and Massachusetts for years and routinely worked six days a week. He bought Pine View Orchard two years ago, mostly for the view. The orchard lies about two miles from New Hampshire. His house faces the rising hills on the other side of the border.
For him, the orchard is part-time work. In retirement, he lives part of the year in Florida.
As is the case with most folks he converses with, the issues of greatest importance to him are the economy and the shrinking middle class. He blames the Republicans “for standing in the way of any kind of progress.” The Republican Party seems intent on sabotaging Obama, no matter the cost. The economy and the welfare of the people are collateral damage to the Republican agenda, he said.
“Something’s not right,” he said. “Without a good strong middle class, without good jobs and good incomes, the country’s not going anywhere.”
Walker considers himself an independent Democrat. He has voted for Republicans in the past, including George H.W. Bush for president.
But not this year.
He predicted York County will go for Obama, just as it did in 2008. Obama won here by more than 20,000 votes — 64,799 to 42,389 — four years ago. This race will be much closer, Walker guessed. There is a lot of discontent here and a lot of struggling people.
He lived in Massachusetts when Romney was governor. He credited the former governor for shepherding the “Romneycare” health-insurance law through the Massachusetts legislature, and thinks Romney would fare better nationally if he reshaped his image as a consensus builder.
“I liked the fact that he worked with the Democrats (in Massachusetts). If Romney was running as the moderate that he is, he’d have a much better chance in the election. He’d probably be ahead of Obama,” Walker said.
Walker said the boost that Romney received from his performance in last week’s debate will drive him further to the center, which should improve his poll numbers and increase his chances of unseating Obama. “I think it’s going to be very, very close,” he said.
Staffing the register at Pine View Orchard was 58-year-old Bill Perkins. In addition to helping Walker run the orchard, he works as an itinerant pharmacist, traveling across Maine and New Hampshire, mostly, to work at pharmacies that need assistance. He’s licensed in four states.
For him, health care is the No. 1 issue. He just purchased a health-insurance policy for himself after shopping around. He declined to say how much he paid, but said that if not for his ability to juggle work and go where his services are needed, he might not have afforded it.
He’s too young to gamble on good health until he qualifies for Medicare.
In his job, he encounters people all the time who can’t afford their medications and other health-care costs.
“I see people every day that are losing their health care or can’t afford it. I see people go bankrupt because they cannot afford the care that they need to keep alive,” Perkins said.
He’s voting for Obama.
Ron Turner plans to vote for Obama, as well, but he’s worried about the president’s chances. He was not impressed with Obama during last week’s debate.
“The way I heard him talking, I thought he didn’t want the job, really,” said Turner, a retired roofing contractor from York.
He stopped in to the Early Bird Cafe in South Berwick for a muffin and cup of coffee the morning after the debate.
He voted Republican much of his adult life, but switched loyalties with President Clinton. The economy was good during the Clinton years, and it was good for his business. As far as he’s concerned, Romney spells trouble.
“He’s so arrogant. He knows it all. But I guess you’ve got to be a little like that to get ahead,” he said.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: