Local voters closing in on choice

Local voters closing in on choice

MLive.com, MI
Oct 17 2004

As he pulls his 2-year-old daughter in a wagon down a quiet Portage
street after dinner, Michael Bank hardly looks like someone who can
predict the winner of the U.S. presidential race.

Neither does Joan Eaton, out walking her golden retriever Abby a
couple of blocks away.

But the voters in Bank’s and Eaton’s neighborhood have picked the top
vote-getter four presidential races in a row, ever since George Bush
“the first” beat Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Now, with the national race in a dead heat just two weeks before the
election, it’s President Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry neck-and-neck
at the finish line among a sampling of decided voters in this small
slice of America.

“Definitely Bush and Cheney,” said Bank, 37, an applications engineer
who lives on Sussex Street in an area of new homes.

“Kerry and Edwards,” said Eaton, 75, a retired registered nurse who
lives in an older part of the neighborhood on Date Street.

In the Kalamazoo Gazette’s unscientific door-to-door survey of 106
residents in the neighborhood, 56 in late September and another 50 this
month, Bush gained ground on Kerry between September and October. The
number of undecided voters this month was less than last.

Gazette reporters plan to return to the neighborhood one more time
to gauge the mood just before the election.

Last week, on a cluster of streets that wind behind Southland Mall
between Oakland Drive and Westnedge Avenue, 23 residents said they
planned to vote for Bush, 18 for Kerry. Nine were undecided.

Last month, 21 were for Kerry, 17 for Bush and 18 were undecided.

Its past voting record isn’t the only thing that make this a
representative neighborhood. The issues people say they care about
mirror the country’s as well.

“Bush is doing a good job with the war,” Bank said. “And I definitely
believe we would have gone into deeper recession without Bush.”

“Bush is really for the rich people,” Eaton said. “Economically,
he hasn’t done a good job.”

The race is close enough that currently undecided voters will likely
decide the outcome. In the Portage neighborhood, more of the undecided
voters this month than last said they were beginning to move toward
one candidate.

But there’s not a lot of enthusiasm behind that movement.

“I’m leaning toward Kerry, but I’m not convinced his policies will
work in the real world,” said Kevin Blair, 46.

He’s seen his share lately of that world. A neuroscientist with a
doctorate who lost his job with the former Pharmacia Corp., he tried
to run his own small manufacturing business, only to be swept out by
competition from China and lose money. Now Blair, who lives with his
family on Avon Street, is looking for work.

Worries about the economy shadow supporters of both candidates.

“We’re pretty much Republicans,” said Scott Broberg, 33. He expects
to vote for Bush. But as an information-technology specialist, he
worries about jobs going to India and other countries.

“Whoever wins, he’s going to have to do something about outsourcing,”
said Broberg, who lives on Southland Avenue.

At a house across the street, though, the votes will go to Kerry.

“That other guy is a crook,” said retired Motors Corp. worker Ralph
Van Der Bos, 80, where a wooden sign on the walkway points the way
“To Grandpa and Grandma’s.”

“And I’ll tell you something else,” he said, “I think he’s behind
those gas prices going up.”

But the deepest passion about the election came from a new American.

Nune Ghazarian, 36, will be voting for the first time in November.
She is a native of Armenia whose Armenian-American husband went back to
his homeland to pick her as his wife. She became a citizen last month.

She will be voting for Bush, she said, beaming as she discussed
her choice.

“He’s done a good job with the terrorists,” said Ghazarian, who pushed
her 2-month-old baby girl in a stroller while her 4-year-old daughter
walked alongside on Sussex.

Ghazarian is excited about voting.

“I feel I am blessed,” Ghazarian said. “This is a wonderful country.”