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Split Marriage: A Husband And Wife Will Cancel Each Other's Democratic Votes In N.H.

Kathleen Masterson
Bob and Carol Backus share a smile after discussing their opposing political views for the better part of an hour. Bob supports Hillary Clinton, while Carol is an advocate of Bernie Sanders.

Carol and Bob Backus have been married 15 years. They’re both engaged citizens and longstanding Democrats, but this year they watched the Democratic debate in separate rooms.

Like many Democrats in New Hampshire, the couple is split over their vote in this year’s primary. Carol is a fierce advocate of Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Bob is throwing his weight behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Though Bob was quick to point out that he and his wife did come together during the debate to make cookies.

“At some point Hilary handed out these cookie molds to make Christmas cookies with an 'H' in the shape of a campaign logo,” said Bob, and “Carol helped me [make] them."

A non-partisan intermission, if you will.

Bob and Carol Backus sat down for a kitchen-table political debate with VPR, and shared their views on why they are canceling each other’s vote in New Hampshire’s primary this Tuesday.

Why she’s supporting Sanders

Carol says she was already a supporter of many causes Sanders espouses long before he declared his run for the Democratic nomination.

For one, she was inspired by the political activist Doris "Granny D" Haddock, who walked across part of the country to highlight what she sees as the need for campaign finance reform.

“There is a whole movement. It's not just Bernie. It's people who are very concerned that our political process has been hijacked by money and by the people who are at the top tier of our economic system, and are able to buy elections," she says. "So Bernie's focus tied in with what was already my focus: getting that money out of politics so that we can accomplish everything else we want to.”

Carol supported Hillary Clinton in 2008. "But I've since have a chance to really reexamine that, and I am very enthusiastic about Senator Sanders," she says. "And I do think that his polling that shows he has an advantage against Republicans over Clinton.”

"Despite Bernie having some polls showing that he has some electoral advantage, he hasn't been the subject of decades of attacks like Hillary Clinton has." - Bob Backus

Carol moved from Georgia to New Hampshire in 1978. She worked for the National Education Association-New Hampshire, and says she’s met many candidates as part of her participation in interviews with the presidential hopefuls over the years.

Why he’s supporting Clinton

Bob is serving his second term as a representative in the New Hampshire Statehouse. Before that he worked as a lawyer for many years.

“I am a supporting Hillary because I think we cannot — we just cannot — elect one of these Republicans president. It would invalidate so many things I think are important to our country that I believe in.”

Bob says he thinks Clinton has proven herself.

“And despite Bernie having some polls showing that he has some electoral advantage, he hasn't been the subject of decades of attacks like Hillary Clinton has," he says. "And so I think she's the one that's been vetted. She's the one that's ready and she's the one that's got the broader agenda.”

"Socialism in reality means taking care of the needs of people and doing it together. And I think there is a large part of this country that is ready to take a serious look at that: expanding Medicare, public education." -Carol Backus

Many paths to presidency

Carol doesn’t disagree that Clinton is well-tested politically, and that experience is important for a president.

“Senator Sanders has had a different kind of experience," she says. "I remember that Jack Kennedy was elected to the presidency after coming out of the Senate. So there's more than one route, and more than one kind of experience.”

But Sanders' relative inexperience nationally worries Bob.

“The thing that bothers me about Bernie is I keep thinking of 1972 when George McGovern was a candidate that fired up people just like Bernie has. And he did sweep to the nomination, in quite an upset," he says. "And he carried one state. He carried one state.”

Bob contends that Sanders does have better polling numbers than McGovern did.

“But the Republican attack machine hasn't really gone after him. And when they do, I think it's going to be very, very difficult for him ... I mean, I think these polls that show him beating Trump or whatever today aren't going to mean a darn thing when the negative ads from their Republican machine gets going.”

On the 'S’ Word 

When asked about how Sen. Sanders would survive a round of attack ads, especially if those ads used the words "socialism" or even “communism,” Carol says she feels supporters would see through the mudslinging.

Carol points out that she’s not from the generation that’s largely supported Sanders – millennials – and that younger people don’t have the same associations with the word “socialism” as her generation might.

“Socialism in reality means taking care of the needs of people and doing it together," she says. "And I think there is a large part of this country that is ready to take a serious look at that. Expanding Medicare, public education— if you wanted to look at it in that context, [it] could be called a socialist project. And Bernie wants to expand that to include college.”

Disagreement, but ultimately united

Both Bob and Carol say that they would throw their support behind whichever Democrat candidate ultimately wins the nomination.

And Bob says they haven’t let their political differences come between them.

“I hope we can be kind of an example of what I hope will happen for everybody, which is: We're going to have our fights about this …. and when we're done we want to be united.”

Carol laughs, and says this is the first time she’s heard Bob say he would support Sanders if he got the nomination.

“One of the things about this campaign is that Senator Sanders has definitely moved [Clinton]. You know, she has come way around. She wasn't even talking about economic issues when she started this campaign,” she says. “So I think whatever happens, [Sanders'] participation has been a wonderful part of it, and hers has too.”

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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