Undecided Maryland voters watch and worry over their choice
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.”