Undecided Mary­land vot­ers watch and worry over their choice

Baltimore Sun - - ELEC­TION 2016 - John.fritze@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jfritze

Von Rin­teln is among a small but crit­i­cal group of vot­ers who had yet to fully make up their minds about this year’s po­lar­iz­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion head­ing into the fi­nal de­bate Wed­nes­day.

As he watched the clash be­tween Clin­ton and Trump with a score­card in hand to take notes about gun con­trol, im­mi­gra­tion and other is­sues, von Rin­teln said at first that he might just vote for Clin­ton, then sug­gested he might write in Repub­li­can House Speaker Paul Ryan — the 2012 vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee who has had a rocky re­la­tion­ship with Trump.

“They’re just ar­gu­ing back and forth,” von Rin­teln said. He thought Trump’s abor­tion rhetoric was over the top, but he broadly agreed with the GOP nom­i­nee on im­mi­gra­tion.

With less than three weeks to go un­til the Nov. 8 elec­tion, undecided vot­ers — or those whose sup­port is squishy — have be­come a key fo­cus for both cam­paigns.

Hun­dreds of Mary­lan­ders an­swered a se­ries of ques­tions about the race in a sur­vey posted on The Bal­ti­more Sun’s web­site and de­signed by Mileah Kromer, the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist who di­rects the Sarah T. Hughes Field Pol­i­tics Cen­ter at Goucher Col­lege. Only a few iden­ti­fied them­selves as fully un­sure. All were men.

Asked for their thoughts dur­ing the de­bate, most said the fo­rum would not change their minds.

Von Rin­teln, a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can who re­tired from the Marines in 1972, said he is par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about for­eign pol­icy. He said Clin­ton, a for­mer sec­re­tary of state, has more ex­pe­ri­ence on the world stage than Trump but he’s wor­ried she would up­hold some of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s more con­tro­ver­sial ideas, such as the nu­clear deal with Iran.

James Tay­lor, a 19-year-old Bal­ti­more County man el­i­gi­ble to vote this year for the first time, has fol­lowed the race closely but hasn’t heard much about what he views as one of the most im­por­tant pol­icy ar­eas: ed­u­ca­tion. Trump and Clin­ton barely ad­dressed ed­u­ca­tion dur­ing any of the de­bates.

“Why are we putting more money to­ward a big­ger Army and a big­ger Air Force while ed­u­ca­tion gets less than10 per­cent” of tax­payer money? asked Tay­lor, a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can.

Tay­lor, a stu­dent at the Com­mu­nity Col­lege of Bal­ti­more County, said he likes some of what Clin­ton has to say, but he strug­gles to get past the deeper is­sue of trust. Clin­ton’s response to the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing her pri­vate email server and the 2012 at­tack on the U.S. diplo­matic com­pound in Beng­hazi, Libya, just rubs him the wrong way.

“He’s do­ing bet­ter than I thought he would,” Tay­lor said of Trump dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s de­bate. He noted the more mea­sured de­meanor Trump dis­played as com­pared to the first two de­bates.

Still, he said, “I don’t think it’s be­come eas­ier — and I still have to make a de­ci­sion.”

About 90 per­cent of vot­ers tell poll­sters they sup­port either Clin­ton or Trump, ac­cord­ing to the RealClearPol­i­tics polling av­er­age. At the same point in the 2012 elec­tion, about 94 per­cent of vot­ers in­di­cated they would back Obama or Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney.

In heav­ily Demo­cratic Mary­land, where Clin­ton is out­polling Trump by a 30-point mar­gin, undecided vot­ers will not tip the bal­ance. But in bat­tle­grounds such as Ohio and Florida — and in newly com­pet­i­tive states such as Ari­zona — the cam­paigns are fight­ing for any scrap of the elec­torate.

“There’s a ten­dency to for­get that, at the end of the day, the av­er­age voter doesn’t pay as close at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics as they do to the other things in their lives,” said Kromer, of Goucher. “What you’re go­ing to see over the next few weeks is all about try­ing to en­gage with those peo­ple.”

In a rau­cous elec­tion like this one, there is also a ten­dency to write off undecided vot­ers as un­in­formed and ul­ti­mately un­likely to show up at the polls. But the vot­ers in­ter­viewed by The Sun do not ap­pear to fall into that cat­e­gory.

Von Rin­teln wor­ried he is a traitor to his party for dis­lik­ing Trump. Tay­lor lamented what he de­scribed as the team sports men­tal­ity of na­tional pol­i­tics, in which par­ti­sans jump on an op­po­nent’s mis­steps but are will­ing to over­look their own can­di­date’s flaws. Both said they will show up to vote on Elec­tion Day.

Dou­glas Dorsey, a 62-year-old sales­man from the Wind­sor Hills neigh­bor­hood, is a reg­is­tered Demo­crat, leans to­ward Demo­cratic can­di­dates and has vol­un­teered to work for a few over the years. Dorsey sup­ported Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, and strug­gled to come around to Clin­ton.

As an African-Amer­i­can liv­ing in a mid­dle-class neigh­bor­hood, Dorsey doesn’t like Trump equat­ing black Amer­ica with the “hor­ri­ble” in­ner cities. But he also thinks Clin­ton hasn’t said enough about how her ad­min­is­tra­tion would ad­dress the strained re­la­tion­ship be­tween po­lice and the com­mu­ni­ties they serve.

That said, by about an hour into the de­bate, Dorsey de­cided that he would prob­a­bly vote for Clin­ton.

“He says noth­ing,” Dorsey said of Trump. “I think she’s been more spe­cific, and that pulls me to her side.”

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