MANCHESTER, N.H. — Some cast votes grudgingly, others with utmost confidence in their choice, and many in New Hampshire’s famously late-breaking electorate voted in New Hampshire’s Republican primary on Tuesday after making up their minds at the last minute. Their decisions were based on economic concerns and, in many cases, pragmatism, with the aim of defeating President Barack Obama in November.
Then there were voters, like Nick Cenatiempo, who said electability was not so important as their personal affinity for a candidate. Cenatiempo, a retired teacher, was relieved as he left his polling place here Tuesday morning. After weeks of indecision, he had finally decided — “just now, in there” — to support Newt Gingrich in the primary.
“My wife said to me, He’s not going to win,”’ said Cenatiempo, who, like some 40 percent of this state’s electorate, is not a member of either major party. “That doesn’t matter. What matters here is that I make the right decision that I can live with, you know what I mean?”
Wavering voters like Cenatiempo will play a large part in the primary results. Only last Thursday, 17 percent of likely Republican primary voters were undecided. By primary day, that group had dropped to seven percent of likely Republican voters.
Overall, a third of voters described themselves as moderate, another third said they were somewhat conservative and a fifth called themselves very conservative. (In Iowa, 47 percent said they were very conservative.)
Compared with the caucus-goers in Iowa, primary voters in New Hampshire are more likely to call themselves independent, more moderate, and less likely to be evangelical Christians. There were fewer Tea Party supporters than in Iowa, according to the exit poll.
Cenatiempo, 63, had done his homework on the candidates. He watched the debates last weekend closely and said he had thought hard about voting for Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah who experienced a surge of support in the final days of the contest. But in the end, Cenatiempo decided Huntsman would be too mild a president.
“Newt has guts and he has experience,” Cenatiempo said. “I think he’s tough.”
Most of those who cast ballots Tuesday were older than 45, according to the exit poll, and there were twice as many voters aged 65 and older as in the state’s 2008 primary. About a third had total family incomes of more than $100,000, and more than half said they had a college degree.