While community members celebrated our nation's freedom in Amherst earlier today, two presidential hopefuls fought to resonate with the patriotic spirit of the day to win over local voters.
Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman engaged voters as they marched in the annual Fourth of July parade that ended at the Amherst Village Common this morning.
Romney, currently ahead in the crowd of candidates, was swarmed by both residents and the media as he strode down the streets of Amherst.
A stage was set at the end of the parade, where Romney appealed to onlookers in a brief speech and to chants of “USA! USA! USA!”
Huntsman, who served as United States Ambassador to China until earlier this year, also reached out to voters and the media, but without a stage.
When asked about the importance of New Hampshire to his campaign, Huntsman said that it is “absolutely central to his victory” and he believes that he can win here.
Romney has been campaigning in New Hampshire for months now, while Huntsman is lesser known to Granite State residents. But Huntsman said he loves being a “margin-of-error” candidate, referring to his lower position in the polls.
“Obviously we are coming from the margin-of-error, which is a place I don’t mind being because New Hampshire loves margin-of-error candidates,” said Huntsman. “They love margin-of-error candidates who are willing to work and put out the time, effort and the energy.”
Many voters at the celebrations today were undecided and were looking to wait and see how each candidate would handle the economy if elected.
“Cut the spending and pay down the debt,” said Mark Vincent, chairman of the Amherst Republicans. “The debt ceiling is so high you can barely see it. Whether it is Romney or Huntsman or any candidate, I want to hear how they will address this.”
Although they rest on opposite ends of the polls, both candidates share the Mormon faith and strong connections with the state of Utah, which has a large Mormon population. There has yet to be a Mormon president and there have been worries that a candidate with that faith will not gain approval from other beliefs, such as Christianity and Catholicism.
However, the fact that a candidate is Mormon does not seem to be a huge factor in the eyes of New Hampshire voters.
“I don’t think their religion makes any difference,” said Graham Smith, chairman of the Amherst Democrats. “There a lot of people where it would be a problem, but not for me.”
Drew Wilson, a member of the First Baptist Church of Amherst, said that it is not a candidate's spirituality that matters, but what their religion brings to their actions.
“It doesn't matter if they are Mormons or any other denomination -- it is the values,” said Wilson.
Frank Williams of the Saint Luke's Anglican Church in Amherst said that he is a big supporter of Romney regardless of his different spiritual practices.
“I think he is a fine guy, I don’t think he is any less a believer in God than I am,” he said.
State Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, said she is not so sure about Romney, or any candidate for that matter. One of her main concerns is the health care reform he implemented while governor of Massachusetts, which many have said is similar to President Barack Obama's nationwide health care reform.
“I'm not planning to pay serious attention to presidential candidates until September,” said McGuire.
As a hardcore Democrat, Smith said that he does not support any Republican candidate, but sees Romney's health care reform in Massachusetts as a weakness when many in the party are running against health care reform.
He said that Obama should have nothing to worry about in the upcoming presidential election, but it will be interesting to see who emerges as the Republican nominee.
“I think they have a weak field. Some of them are crazy or have been crazy in the past and are now toning it down,” said Smith.
Supporters of other Repbulican candidates, including Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty, also marched in the parade today.