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Southeastern Connecticut voters weigh in on presidential election

With the COVID-19 pandemic devastating the country and ongoing protests against police brutality, The Day sought a sense of how voters are thinking about the 2020 presidential election.

Readers from throughout southeastern Connecticut who have volunteered to be part of The Day's election coverage answered three questions via email: How would you assess President Donald Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic? How would you assess the president's handling of the racial unrest in this country? Would Joe Biden have done a better job?

Those who answered took the opportunity to make their case for whom to vote for come November.

The pandemic

The majority of respondents lambasted the Trump administration’s pandemic response. Samuel Browning of Norwich, a Democrat, said the situation was “horribly mismanaged.” Democrat Eunice Arnold of Branford said Trump’s handling has been “pathetic and dangerous.” Bob Salen of Niantic, who is unaffiliated, characterized Trump’s response as “pathetic and underwhelming,” and said the president is “in far over his head.” Robert Chew, a Democrat, of Mystic said, “What ‘handling?’ All B.S. and no action whatsoever.”

Mark Bancroft, a Stonington independent, said Trump’s indecisiveness hindered a faster recovery. Democrat Fredrick Turnbull of Mystic described Trump’s direction as “incompetent and dangerous.” Democrat Larry Zaccaro of Waterford said Trump’s pandemic leadership has been “atrocious.” John Groton, a Stonington Democrat, and Krista Larrow, a Waterford Democrat, both said Trump’s answer to the pandemic has been “catastrophic.” Democrat Kathy Neugent of Waterford said it was “bad.” New London Democrat Greg Kotecki said Trump not wearing a mask “demonstrated poor leadership.”

Democrat Laura Lee of Ledyard said Trump handled the pandemic poorly, noting that if he had taken the matter seriously and given more direction to the states, fewer people might have died. Susan Menghi, a Democrat from Waterford, said Trump “did not act on it early on and even denied the seriousness of it.” Norwich resident William Kenny, a Democrat, said Trump “has been MIA almost from the day he proclaimed, based on nothing, that in a matter of days, the reported cases of infection would diminish and COVID-19 would just go away.”

Matthew Shulman, a Democratic voter from Groton, said Trump has shown “blatant disregard for the safety of Americans he’s sworn to defend,” that he’s “governed by narcissistic self-interest” and he’s been “scientifically delusional.” Patricia C. Vener-Saavedra of Hamden, who identified her party as Socialist Alternative, said Trump's handling of the pandemic has been “at best, criminally negligent.”

There were some positive reviews.

New London Republican Suzanne Simpson said Trump did an excellent job handling the pandemic and helping the states with what was needed to fight the virus as it was being identified.

Waterford resident Garon VanOverloop, a Republican, noted that on Feb. 2, Trump “issued a travel ban pertaining to non-U.S. Citizens from the China region, appropriate medical screening and quarantining would then be enacted.”

“Those were very important steps in trying to slow down the up and coming pandemic,” VanOverloop said. “Unfortunately the virus was already in the country, undetected well ahead of any of the medical experts.”

Republican Jim Spellman of Groton said Trump has done a “commendable job of taking the myriad information that is sometimes contradictory from multiple sources and somehow sifting through all that.”

Paul Nunes of Norwich, who identifies himself as an independent, said Trump could’ve done better by not being “so petty” and “patting himself on the back."

Democrats Peter and Terri Roper of Mystic summed up the dominant feeling among respondents regarding Trump’s pandemic management.

“His lack of understanding of science, lack of compassion, inability to separate the national interest from his interest and his total incompatibility with the truth make a deadly mix that caused horrible suffering and death,” the Ropers said.

Or, as Larrow put it, “on a scale from competent to catastrophic,” Trump’s pandemic response is “the Hindenburg.”

Racial unrest

Trump supporters gave him good grades on his handling of racial unrest.

"This is an issue that has been brewing for years, and to judge the current president on past problems that have been fueled by recent incidents with white police killing blacks is certainly a problem," Simpson said. "But look at Chicago, that is tragic that so many people die daily ... young black people ... that is what needs to be looked at, too."

Spellman said Trump "allowed anarchy and criminality to occur." By that, Spellman said, he meant that Trump allowed the mass demonstrations to get out of control, specifically citing the destruction of storefronts and other property, and that he did not push hard enough for a national dialogue.

Nunes said Trump "could have empathized a little more." He said the president let protests get "out of control" and Trump should've done more to punish those who caused destruction.

VanOverloop said racial injustice has been an issue in the country for decades and did not begin when Trump was elected.

"On June 16, 2020, the president signed an executive order on Safe Policing for Safer Communities," VanOverloop said. "This is the start that communities in this country need in order to make neighborhoods safer, and policing more accountable."

For the most part, however, respondents felt Trump added to the recent pronounced tumult surrounding racism and police brutality.

“Trump did not try to calm the waters, he moved in the opposite direction with his comments,” Browning said. “I could be accused of bias since I'm an Episcopal and don't like his fake photo op at one of our churches in Washington after he cleared his walk there with pepper spray and riot police.”

Chew said Trump has offered “toxic blather” rather than “real action” in the face of widespread Black Lives Matter movements. Zaccaro also said Trump has exacerbated tensions.

“The man is a racist at his core, and makes no effort to hide it,” Zaccaro said. “He is non-apologetic and again, does not have the faintest hint of ability to understand what would need to be done to mitigate the divisions in this country.”

Bancroft said of racial unrest during Trump’s tenure that the president’s “dismissive attitude and actions and continual ranting tweets did nothing to help this situation.”

Kenny agreed, saying “he has no talent, ability, or inclination for dialogue so important to building bridges and prefers petulant demonization that inflames bad feelings and ill will to further divide us.”

 Kotecki and Larrow said they believe Trump is using racism as a way to ignite his base.

“Trump is a white supremacist, sociopath and narcissist,” Larrow said. “He has no interest in restoring peace or mending race relations in this country. His actions and words are not those of someone who is interested in quelling the violence, but of someone who enjoys stoking it.”

Chew elaborated on this point. “His followers are howling at the dogwhistles,” he said. “‘Dogwhistle’ may not be a totally apt metaphor because the rest of us can hear it, too.”

Quaker Hill resident George Blahun, a member of the Green Party, put it this way: “He is stoking the racial divisions in this country by his mindless and insensitive rhetoric and his total ignorance of the historical issues involved.”

Would Biden have done better?

While some respondents said Biden isn’t their favorite candidate, the majority said he would have done a more robust job than Trump in slowing the pandemic and soothing racial tensions.

Neugent said Biden would have told the truth, no matter how unpleasant, made decisions based on science, listened to public health experts and used the power of the National Defense Act earlier to ramp up production of personal protective equipment. She added that Biden would wear a mask to set an example. On racial unrest, Neugent said, Biden would have been a calm voice of reason trying to bring people together and not divide them; he would have shown empathy and backed rational police reform.

Many respondents said Biden would have listened to health experts in his pandemic response, whereas Trump has gone with his “gut instinct,” as Turnbull phrased it.

“Biden would rely on input and proposed actions from experts in the field, not simple concepts that he thought of (like Trump) or simple ideas that he could understand (like Trump),” Zaccaro said.

Readers said Biden is better equipped to work with the Black community amid mass protests against racism and police brutality.

“Biden has built a relationship of trust with the Black community,” Larrow said. “Their support of him during the primary is what helped him secure the nomination. I think Biden would have immediately condemned police brutality, thrown his support to Black Lives Matter and led our country in the difficult national conversation about our racial inequities.”

Many said Biden would seek to unite the country, as opposed to what they view as Trump’s divisive response.

Simpson said she does not think Biden is “mentally prepared to run a country” and is too far left.

VanOverloop said it’s impossible to tell who, between Trump and Biden, would be handling crises better right now.

“But I will touch on the fact that Biden has been in Congress for most of his life,” VanOverloop said. “So my question is, why hasn’t he done anything to combat racism in his 45-plus years of public service?”

Vener-Saavedra felt Biden wouldn't have handled either situation better and said he is not a competent replacement, calling him a “warmonger in the pocket of oligarchic controllers.”

Blahun said while Biden was not his first or even third choice for president, he would have listened to protesters and “would offer some common sense reforms, specifically in the area of police oversight” and would also “call for removing the statues of traitorous individuals and other icons of the Confederacy from public places.”

Salen said Biden “would not have politicized either crisis the way Trump has.”

“He would have opened a national dialogue on racism and then led with reasoned decisions and recommendations to Congress,” Salen said.

Others said they aren’t the biggest fan of Biden’s policies, but that he would be a better leader. Lee, for example said that while Biden has his flaws in regard to racial issues, she feels he is more willing to learn and change than Trump.

Day Staff Writers Kimberly Drelich, Julia Bergman, Amanda Hutchinson and Erica Moser contributed to this report.

s.spinella@theday.com 

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