Presidential races are not clean, polite affairs; candidates rarely escape without jagged cuts or lasting scars.
But the 2016 presidential race has been a spectacle from the start. That can have its good points: for example, some of the debates, while feisty, gave voters a good feel for where the candidates stand on key issues including health care, education, national defense, trade deals, and — for Democrats, anyway — climate change.
But the race has a very apparent dark side, and the chief boogeyman is Republican frontrunner/reality TV star Donald Trump. Trump has made disgusting remarks about Mexican immigrants and said that Muslims shouldn't be allowed into the country. His rallies have racist overtones and have become violent. They've also triggered a growing protest movement.
This is the backdrop for New York's April 19 presidential primary. Registered Republicans will have the chance to cast their vote for Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, or Ohio Governor John Kasich. Democrats will choose between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The presidential race is about the country's future and, really, its soul. Whoever is elected in November will not only set an agenda for the country, but the national tone, too.
Voters consider different factors when they select a candidate, and their choices are individual, particularly in party primaries. Some look for a candidate who prioritizes military strength or strong diplomacy; others value a candidate's immigration policies, plans to make college accessible, or ideas for boosting renewable energy development.
City talked with five local voters, each supporting a different presidential contender. They talked about what they like about their candidate and responded to key criticisms.
Their responses follow with one exception: our Cruz backer withdrew his support for the candidate after learning he'd appointed Frank Gaffney as a foreign policy advisor. Gaffney is anti-Muslim and a notorious conspiracy theorist, he says, and has been disavowed by many conservatives.
The former Cruz supporter's decision illustrates a problem facing many Republicans during these primary campaigns: The top candidates have embraced extreme positions and periodically xenophobic rhetoric that clash with the voters' own values. For some, the situation has made selecting a candidate a difficult exercise.
The responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
- PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
- Carrie Gilroy
Carrie Gilroy lives in Irondequoit and teaches refugee students at School No. 5 in the City of Rochester. She is a Bernie Sanders delegate.
CITY: Why is Bernie Sanders the best choice for Democrats?
Gilroy: We have a chance to elect somebody who is not beholden to corporate interests, whose only group he needs to answer to is the American people. And I just found that so refreshing in the age of Citizens United, which I do believe is the most damaging thing we've done to our democracy.
It's important to me that he's talking about climate change because none of the other candidates are doing that. The other candidates are taking money from the fossil fuel industry and supporting fracking; we're talking about a serious threat to our future and he's the only one who has a strong enough climate proposal.
(This is a nuanced issue, since presidential candidates can't accept money directly from corporations. Sanders flatly opposes fracking and he swore off donations connected to the fossil fuel industry. Clinton has said that she wants to regulate fracking, but media reports say that she's also raising money from workers and executives at energy companies and capital firms heavily invested in fracking.)
I'm a teacher in an urban district and it's not just my kids, but lots of kids cannot afford college. This is a major problem. We tell kids in public school, "Look, you've got to go to college, this is what you need to do, this is how you participate in the middle class." That is not accessible to millions and millions of students who otherwise would love to go to college.
When we're talking about a tax on Wall Street speculation to fund public college and university, I think that is so powerful and I think that would be a complete game-changer. We're talking about improving our society by having a more educated populace.
What would you say to Clinton supporters to get them to feel the Bern?
First of all, what are her allegiances? Is she allied to Wall Street, the financial industry? Does she have our best interests at heart or is she looking out for the 1 percent? There's a reason that these corporations are donating massive amounts of money to the political campaigns; we're all smart enough to realize that they're going to get something in return.
When we're talking about a progressive agenda, we're talking about universal health care, single-payer health care. And these are things that Hillary Clinton advocated for in her career that now she believes are too divisive, too controversial, too hard to do, and too difficult to get through Congress. I do believe that health care is a right for all people, and we see this in other countries, it's successful in other countries. This is something that we can do here.
Sanders and his supporters are often characterized as impractical idealists. How do you respond to that?
I'm tired of people telling us we can't do better. We've gotten really complacent in this country after eight years of obstructionism. We're all just throwing our hands up going "Ugh, we just can't get anything done. Ugh, we just can't agree...The Republicans are going to block everything that we do."
It's so demoralizing when you think about it, to just straight off the bat say "Nope, can't do it, it's not going to happen." We can do better. It's 2016, we're the richest country on earth, we can make it happen.
Bernie has always said he can't do this alone. It requires a shift in our thinking, it requires a shift in what we expect that we can do and accomplish. And what he brings to the table is inspiration to do that.
- PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
- Josh Keaton
Josh Keaton lives in the City of Rochester's Maplewood neighborhood, works as a regional sales manager for a video surveillance company, and is a volunteer with Monroe County for Hillary Clinton.
Why do you think Hillary Clinton is the best choice for Democrats?
Her experience working both on domestic issues and foreign affairs in the State Department; her long history of caring about the needs of children, the economically vulnerable, minorities, all the groups that we know have been failed over the past 30-35 years of trickle-down economics.
Her vision for the nation is one that's realistic and achievable, and I think it's something that we can build on. She wants to improve the Affordable Care Act; we should be trying to drive down the cost and making sure that we're getting as effective a health care policy as possible. If we start making dramatic changes, my real concern is that might impact poor folks adversely.
A lot of Republicans came into office and they've been very difficult to work with. So I think if we try to overreach and do too much as Democrats and as liberals, we can actually empower all the folks who want to take away what we've worked for, not just in the Obama administration but for the last few decades.
I've got no doubt that if she were to win the nomination, I think she could certainly appeal to all factions of the Democratic Party.
What would you say to Sanders supporters to convince them to vote Clinton?
The reason why there's the belief that Hillary Clinton is dishonest is because she and her husband have been the relentless subject of investigations foisted by Republicans for two decades. If someone makes spurious accusations against you for years, does that mean you have baggage or does that mean you've just been the subject of dishonest people?
If you just look at her record when she was in the Senate, and if you look at her record and her public statements going back for 20-30 years, her record is unabashedly liberal. Bernie's to the left of her, no doubt about it. And Bernie has been more consistent on issues, I think that's absolutely the case. He's to be commended for that, and he's been a powerful voice inside the Democratic Party. But Hillary Clinton is not some massive sellout.
If you're interested in continuing the legacy of President Obama and if you're interested in building toward a nation that's full of more opportunity for more people, then you've got to consider Secretary Clinton.
Sanders supporters say that Clinton takes too much money from wealthy donors and that she is bound to be influenced by them. Is that a concern?
This is the system we have; it would be great if we had a different system. We should work to modify and reform the system...and we have to make sure that we're doing everything we can to win the offices that can help enact that change.
That being said, it's difficult to find an issue where she's been influenced by money. When you have someone like Hillary who was in the Senate for eight years, who was working with Republicans, with conservative members of her conference to pass legislation and get things done for the American people, it may seem like money is involved, but that's her mindset, she wants to get things done.
Ben Frenett of Spencerport will turn 18 shortly before primary day. He registered as a Republican and his first vote will be for Donald Trump.
Why is Donald Trump the best choice for Republicans?
He calls himself a smart Republican and I like that because I think that it's important when you have conservative views to be smart about those.
He wants to repeal Obamacare, but he wants to create a type of health care that's accessible and affordable for all: some would say a form of universal health care. You look at Ted Cruz and he wants to get rid of Obamacare and not replace it.
Typically a big part of the conservative ideology is free trade, and that's what the other Republican candidates are for. But free trade, as Trump would say, is not smart trade, and Trump isn't for free trade.
I think he's definitely a strong negotiator, a strong businessman, and I think he's relatable to the people. I think a lot of these other guys like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, even though he's out now, they're just not really relatable to the normal person. When Trump speaks his mind, he's not what you would say politically correct. He comes across as authentic.
What would you say to Cruz and Kasich supporters to convince them to vote Trump?
If I was talking to a Cruz supporter, I would say that it's extremely unlikely for him to win in a general election, just because he's not going to be able to get independent voters over on the Republican side. He's too strict and he's not willing to negotiate.
And to a Kasich supporter, I would say "Your guy really has no shot. I would encourage you to back Trump because he's what's best for our country, instead of for no reason prolonging a campaign that has no chance to win."
Trump has said things that border on hate speech, and which many people believe are racist. Do his remarks trouble you?
Certain things you could definitely say he's crossed the line. But I think that when you do speak your mind, sometimes that happens. I think people understand that nobody's writing his speeches for him, he's saying what he thinks. Sometimes that happens; everybody says stuff they wish they could take back.
- PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
- Elliot Frost
Elliot Frost, who is originally from New Jersey, is a University of Rochester freshman and a member of the school's College Republicans group. He supports Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Why is John Kasich the best choice for Republicans?
He has a proven consistent record. He spent a number of years in Congress and he was part of the budget committee that put together our last budget that was actually balanced. When he became governor of Ohio, he turned a massive deficit into a $2 billion surplus with a multibillion dollar rainy day fund.
He's also far more pragmatic than most of the Republican candidates in that he's not an ideological purist. You kind of have to be if you're a governor of Ohio. Most other Republican governors rejected expanding Medicaid in their states while John Kasich did in fact extend Medicaid in order to help state coffers and also to help the general health care of poor Ohioans.
He's not a fan of Obamacare and he does want it repealed. As health insurance is now, bills pile up and it's very difficult to keep track of all your costs. He wants to simplify that, working with private insurance to perhaps centralize that so that people are able to make better informed decisions about their health care choices.
Smaller, market-based steps have to be taken where perhaps government works with private insurance to a certain extent to facilitate cheaper costs, rather than having the government go right in and facilitate it.
What would you say to Trump and Cruz supporters to convince them to vote Kasich?
I respect Cruz because he does stay very consistent in his beliefs. However, have those beliefs really done much in Congress? I can't really say so. He's had a history of being so hard-headed that even Republicans in the Senate don't want to work with him. And being that unwavering isn't really helpful at this point. I think that's a big reason why a lot of people are going to Donald Trump, because he talks about making deals and whatnot. I think people are very tired of this rather stringent form of conservatism.
If I were talking to a Donald Trump supporter, I would have to say that he is very inconsistent. I honestly don't know what he believes because it seems like he's changed his mind about pretty much everything and anything. I get that people like his swagger in a way, and he's not politically correct. But he's just all over the place.
One of the big concerns about Kasich is his viability as a candidate. Could he be competitive in the general election?
Absolutely. Without a doubt, he'd be able to bring Ohio on to the Republican side. He doesn't have any major gaffes, his record is solid, there doesn't seem to be too much going against him in the general election. I definitely think that if he is the nominee in the general election that he could beat Hillary Clinton.
He was able to win re-election with about 60 percent of the vote, also with a large percentage of the minority vote, which definitely can help the Republican Party. He seems to be a rather down-to-earth, likeable person. He's an effective executive. It just seems like he's the full package. The problem we've had until this point is that he's had a little trouble getting people familiar with him. But I think once people get to know him, America will definitely like John Kasich.