Citing fear of health-care bill, and voting Brown
By Karl Vick
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Jaimee Vassallo stood in the entrance of Boutwell School, facing a Currier & Ives scene of a New England village wreathed in falling snow, and considered what she had just done.
"Oh, Mary," she said, grabbing the arm of a friend on her way in to vote. "I'm switching over to the Republican side for the first time ever."
She staggered a bit, half comically, but half serious, too.
"It's a tough day," she said.
Registered as an independent, Vassallo has nonetheless voted Democratic in every election of her adult life. So has her mother, who Vassallo, 52, said also supports Scott Brown over Martha Coakley in the U.S. Senate race being decided in Massachusetts today.
"I don't agree with all his policies," Vassallo said. "But I felt strongly that I didn't want that candidate in office.
Of Coakley, she said: "It's a personality thing. And that negative campaigning really pushed me over the edge. To stand up for your issues, fine. But to go after him the way she did, that's disgraceful."
Vassallo's judgment, if widely shared, is bad news for Democratic strategists who went into Tuesday looking for independent women to swing the vote toward Coakley, the longtime frontrunner overtaken in recent polls by Brown's surge.
"I feel badly for Obama," the teacher went on. "I like him. I think he's a good person. I feel sorry for him." But what she hears about the health-care reform bill has her mother "just terrified," Vassallo said, and she has grown mistrustful as well.
"I think he's trying too hard to shove it through," she said. "I think they should take their time and get the bugs out."
Turnout appeared strong in this town 18 miles northwest of Boston, in the heart of the corridor between I-495 and Route 128 that campaign strategists call crucial to the Brown candidacy. Wilmington is half the small town it always was, and half a suburban refuge for doctors and other professionals who commute to Boston on either of the two commuter rail lines nearby.
"We are ducky," said the woman directing voters to either Precinct 1 or Precinct 2. "We're inside."
By 2:30 p.m., almost a third of voters had turned out, with the heaviest flow still ahead "tonight, at suppertime," said assistant town clerk Carolyn Kenney. The snow that had turned to rain in Boston was coming down steadily, but the flow of traffic into the school was almost constant, sedans and SUVs turning past the snowman wearing a flannel shirt and holding a Scott Brown sign. A live human stood next to him.
"I don't think the weather is affecting Wilmington," Kenney said.
The Republican appeared to be doing well here.
"Most definitely," said Luann Mitchell, 56, a registered independent who also voted for Brown in the primary. "I just agree with everything he has to say. And I'm tired of Massachusetts politics. It's time for a change."
A handmade sign just off the I-93 freeway from Boston read: "Thanks Teddy K But Vote Scott Brown."
"I think it has a lot to do with the health care, which I was up in the air about, but I decided to go with the Democrats," said Lisa, 26, a registered independent. A dental hygienist, she declined to give her last name, saying she feared public support of the Democratic reform might look bad at work. "I voted for Martha Coakley," she said. "I support Obama."
For Chris Zollner, a city employee who moved from New Jersey a decade ago, "it's not as much I like her as I don't like Brown," he said. "To be honest with you, the amount of phone calls I got from Scott Brown, it was kind of overkill. I was getting two calls a day, most of them pre-recorded from private numbers. It kind of sat bad with me."
In terms of registration, the town of Wilmington roughly approximates the state: Declared Democrats outnumber declared Republicans better than two to one, but independents outnumber the two parties put together by a substantial margin. Local politics is dominated by the Democratic Party.
"Scott Brown," said Susan Tocci, 53, who veered on the way to her car to declare herself to a reporter.
"I don't want the health-care reform to go. I see what my parents are going through. I don't want more of that."
A registered Democrat, she voted for Coakley in the primary. The candidate was the speaker at her daughter's commencement at Framingham State. "And I liked her then," Tocci said. "But I had a look at the issues."
Web Politics Editor
January 19, 2010; 4:27 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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