Politics

August 21, 2012

Off the Trail: Around the paddock, voters are as skittish as the horses

In Topsham, denizens of the harness racing world express deep dissatisfaction with the way things are.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

First 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.

click image to enlarge

Donald Richards, 80, of Yarmouth says he’ll vote, but, “I’m not an Obama fan. I’m not too much of a Romney fan, either.”

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Lillian and Roger Bellmore of Woolwich say they are fed up with the current administration and will vote Republican this fall, though they express little enthusiasm for Mitt Romney.

Gabe Souza

TOPSHAM - Todd DuBois leans against the chain-link fence at the racing oval of the Topsham Fairgrounds. He watches the horses as they run by during practice laps before the start of harness racing during the recent fair.

The horses kick up a cloud of dust, and DuBois rubs his eyes.

He'd much rather talk about racing, but he consents to a conversation about politics.

"I feel we need a change. They said before we need a change, and now we need another change," says DuBois, a 47-year-old, third-generation horseman from Biddeford.

Politics is a sore subject in the paddock, where everybody says they're fed up, frustrated and unhappy with the status quo of our national government.

Roger Bellmore, 70, feels sorry for whichever candidate wins the White House, and is not optimistic about the future. "No, not really," he said. "We're so far in the hole, it doesn't matter who takes over."

But he will vote. They all plan to vote because it's an act of empowerment.

These are small-business folks, mostly. Some are retired, but the bulk of these people cobble together a variety of jobs to make a living. Horse racing is part of their mix.

The three issues most important to them: Jobs, jobs and jobs.

Taxes are a distant concern, followed by what they derisively refer to as "government welfare" and personal rights.

"I guess I am like everybody else, as far as people getting jobs and keeping small business going," DuBois says. "We need to keep more jobs in the United States."

Days before this interview, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a better-than-expected jobs report that said the country added 163,000 jobs in July, with gains in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, health care and wholesale trade.

In Maine, the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, almost a full percentage point better than the national average.

At least by those measures, things are looking up on the jobs front.

But there is little optimism in the paddock and little faith in the candidates. The people we talk to say they are voting for the Republican Party -- but not necessarily for Mitt Romney.

No one holds out any hope for President Obama.

"I think he's a nice man, and I do believe he's got the country's best interest at heart," DuBois says. "But I don't know that he can handle the job. I don't think he's proved it yet."

Lillian Bellmore of Woolwich put it like this:

"I'm going to vote Republican. Not necessarily because I feel (Romney) is the better candidate. I think it's a lot like most people who are voting Republican: We're just not going to vote Democrat. I believe that people should work. I believe strongly in farm, and I believe strongly for the right to have firearms, and I believe everybody should pay taxes, and that's the reason."

As she speaks, Bellmore prepares her horse, Raining Credit, for a qualifying run. She attaches the bridle, ties down the horse's tongue with a wet piece of panty hose and calms the beast with soothing words as the horse paws the ground in anticipation of its race.

Bellmore works full time as a second-shift supervisor in the paint shop at Bath Iron Works. Her husband, Roger, spent 43 years at BIW before retiring a few years ago.

They own a few horses, and race on the side.

Roger Bellmore says the motivating issue that will get him to the voting booth is Social Security. He wants to make sure Social Security is preserved, and feels the best chance for that to happen is with a Republican administration -- although he freely admits the Republicans seem destined to fail, even if they win.

He wants someone to address the national debt issue so he can feel more confident that his Social Security check will continue showing up in his mailbox. "You work all your life and they talk about taking it away," he says, slugging down an afternoon cup of coffee. "I feel I earned it. ... I feel I shouldn't lose it because the government can't take care of the money."

Donald Richards, 80, of Yarmouth shakes his head when asked about the national debt. "Each year it seems to get bigger. Someone's going to have to pay it off."

He's disgusted with the whole political process. He's going to vote, because he always does. But he's not sure why. He's strongly opinionated -- "I've been opinionated all my life" -- but has little regard for politics. "I'm not an Obama fan. I'm not too much of Romney a fan, either," he says.

Frank Woodbury of Cumberland isn't committed to either candidate. He's a Republican who voted for Obama last time around, but doubts he will again. "I think I'm going to vote for the Republican," said Woodbury, a paddock judge. "I'm not too fussy about either one of them, to be truthful with you."

By no means are the folks at the fair an indicator of the outcome of the election in Maine. Obama won Maine in 2008 with 57 percent of the vote, and Maine has voted with the Democrat in each presidential election since 1992. People who follow politics believe Obama will win Maine again.

But these folks reveal a restlessness and dissatisfaction with the way things are.

Liz Switzer of Cumberland would love to work with horses full time, just as her husband does. But she has to take a part-time job so that she, her husband and 3-year-old son have health insurance. She is infuriated each time she looks at her check and sees how little she brings home.

It's hardly worth working -- except that she must.

"It just seems with my paycheck, they take so much out of it for taxes. After I pay for my insurance, there is nothing left for me," she says.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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