Claire and Philip Siegel outside the polling place at Commack...

Claire and Philip Siegel outside the polling place at Commack High School, Scholar Lane, Commack. (Mar. 2, 2004) Credit: Newsday photo/Michael E. Ach

This story was originally published in Newsday on March 3, 2004

David Benson of Dix Hills said there was never a doubt in his mind whom he would vote for in yesterday's Democratic presidential primary: John Kerry.

"I was never torn in any way," said the computer consultant. "I felt all along that Kerry was the best of the field."

While few Long Island Democrats interviewed had anything bad to say about underdog contender Sen. John Edwards.

Exit polls across Long Island showed that Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, was running stronger on Long Island than anywhere else in the state.

"Edwards is a very nice man - well-meaning and bright," said Elvera Roussell, an actress from Dix Hills, "but I don't think he has the experience to lead this country in these divisive times."

Judy Wertheim, 64, a retired teacher from Commack, said, "Kerry has the gravitas," and "he was against a war which was an abomination," the Vietnam conflict.

Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said many party members in Nassau backed Kerry because they feel "it's time for the party to unite behind a single candidate who they know can beat George Bush." He added that Kerry's character as a Vietnam veteran who later spoke out against the war earned him support. "Campaigns are filled with rhetoric, but ... people here are impressed with his strength of character."

Underlining that point, Marilyn Scattpreggio of Dix Hills, a special-education advocate, said, "He has a military background. He served when he could have got out of it and I think that says a lot to me."

Others were more pragmatic. "He can get Bush out of the White House," said Claire Siegel, 75, of Commack. Steen Melby, a boat restorer from Blue Point, said he voted for Kerry because "Bush has been a disaster for the country."

One Kerry supporter, Mary Reeve, a retired nursery school worker from Massapequa, said, "The thought is I'm not voting for, I'm voting against." She also said she approved of Kerry's war record. "I'm of that era and I marched against the war," she said.

Edwards supporter Patrick Halpin, a former Suffolk County executive, said the lopsided outcome was no surprise. "Super Tuesday is a huge undertaking and it's very hard for an underdog candidate to break out when you're trying to run in a lot of big states like California, Ohio and New York," he said.

Halpin also said Kerry got a big bounce from newspaper endorsements across the state and the momentum from earlier primaries.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Edwards lacked the grassroots network he needed to mount a legitimate challenge. "He had a tough time getting his organization going," he said. "Before Iowa he was just a blip and he caught fire late. He's done a pretty good job playing catch-up. That's why I think he'd make an excellent vice presidential candidate."



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