SALISBURY -- In a busy elementary school gymnasium on this Eastern Shore city's east side, a 32-year-old legal secretary did something yesterday she had never done before.
Although she is a registered Republican, Tracy Cassell voted for Democrat for president. She chose Bill Clinton, she said, because she has grown to fear leaders of her own political party.
"Republicans are getting too scary," said Cassell, the mother of a 2 1/2 -year-old daughter. "I'm all for family values, but they are getting extreme to me."
In District 5, Precinct 2, a politically conservative neighborhood of 2,483 registered voters, such a switch runs counter to habit. This is Reagan Democrat country. Democrats may outnumber Republicans here by a 3-to-2 margin, but voters tend to prefer to elect Republicans as president.
For Bob Dole to be struggling in such a place was an early indicator of a disastrous day for the Republican presidential candidate.
"I'm voting against [House Speaker] Newt Gingrich," said Tony Mumuney, 42, a pharmacist and Republican who said he voted for Clinton. "Most of the bad things that are happening, a lot of the blame lies on [Gingrich's] side."
Clearly, somebody forgot to tell the voters at East Salisbury Elementary that they were supposed to be apathetic this year. True, they lacked the angry, "throw the bums out" feelings of two years ago. But they were willing to stand in line for 45 minutes or more to cast their ballots, undeterred by polls suggesting that the election was a fait accompli.
Unfortunately for Dole, many in East Salisbury said they came to choose a safe, moderate position and did not see it in the former Senate majority leader. In a time of relative prosperity, most said they didn't have a reason to change presidents.
'Better off' now
"People feel that they are better off than they were four years ago," said W. Paul Martin, a Democrat and mayor of this city of nearly 21,000. "While they may not agree with either of the candidates, there's a definite feeling of satisfaction."
City Councilman O. Palmer Gillis III, a Republican elected in nonpartisan elections in May, said times aren't as good as the booming 1980s, but they are far better than the early '90s. "People seem to be pretty upbeat," he said.
Home of Perdue Farms Inc. and an expanding number of high-tech electronics and communications manufacturers, Salisbury is doing better economically than many Shore communities. It is the region's hub of commerce and culture, but retains the region's conservative brand of politics.
The East Salisbury precinct, a mostly blue-collar, working-class area, bucked the historic trend in 1992 and voted for Clinton, 785-701, over George Bush despite a Bush victory in every Eastern Shore county.
"I think Clinton will end up carrying the whole county" this year, predicted Edward G. Banks Jr., 54, a Salisbury attorney and Dole supporter. "The stock market and home mortgage rates are looking pretty good. A lot of people feel Dole is irrelevant."
Dole's age a problem
Dole's age was seen as a problem by a number of voters in East Salisbury. It was a concern expressed not infrequently by older voters, even by some who said they voted for him.
"I wish Dole were 10 years younger," said Democrat George Chevallier, 53, an accountant and Dole supporter. "He's shown a lot of energy in the last days of the campaign, but I think his age is held against him."
East Salisbury voters had plenty of criticisms of Clinton, too. Quite a few were troubled by the ethics issues surrounding the president, from allegations of campaign finance irregularities to the Paula Jones lawsuit and the Whitewater investigation.
Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling and three fellow nuns from Joseph House, a nonprofit organization that aids the poor, said the president's morals and pro-abortion rights position weighed heavily against him. Yet, they were unhappy with Republicans for reducing federal aid to the poor.
"The elderly poor are as precious as the unborn," said Sister Connie Ladd.
Ultimately, the nuns wound up voting for Ross Perot, who supports abortion rights but "doesn't bring up the issue so constantly" as Clinton, Gintling said.
"It's a 'lesser of all the evils' question," she added.
Kelly Rayle, 28, a homemaker voting in her first election, made a "hesitant" choice of Dole, persuaded by her minister, who advised the congregation Sunday to "practice what we preach."
Listened to her pastor
"I thought Mr. Clinton did a pretty good job," said Rayle, who was accompanied by her 20-month-old son, Alex. "But I listened to my pastor. Clinton's headed for trouble, whether it's his wife or members of his Cabinet."
Laban "Buddy" Evans, 56, a warehouse worker, said he voted for Dole but wasn't wholly satisfied with his choices.
"I wasn't too crazy about either man, but I'm a veteran and I just don't have the heart to vote for Bill Clinton," Evans said.
Yet, even some of those who give Clinton a low rating on character were apt to support him.
"For a while, it bothered me," Betty Lou Kulp, 54, said of the allegations, "but I think a lot of it is blown out of proportion by the media."
Thomas L. Jenkins, 69, a retired phone company executive, said Clinton's new taxes cost him some Social Security benefits, but he still voted for the president.
"There's nothing wrong with that if the money can help somebody else," Jenkins said.
Blaming the Congress
Over and over, people said it was the actions of a Republican-led Congress, efforts to trim Medicare and other social programs that swung them toward Clinton.
Diana Staley, 36, a widowed college student raising a 4-year-old on $1,400 a month from Social Security, feared what might happen to her and other families in need under a Dole White House.
Since her husband died in a car accident nearly three years ago, she has had to get by without medical insurance for herself or her son. Between $500 in monthly rent and $75 weekly day care costs, there isn't a lot to spare.
"Do you like all your best friend's traits?" Staley said of Clinton. "I have a child to raise. I have to look at the whole picture."
Pub Date: 11/06/96