Some Voters Are Spelling Out Their Indecision on Their Donation Checks

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For one tiny sliver of swing voters, it is not enough to be wrestling with whether to vote for President Obama or Mitt Romney at a moment when nearly everyone else has long since decided. Their checkbooks, too, are wavering between the two candidates.

Meet the undecided donors. They are not lobbyists or other members of the political class -- donors with a professional imperative to hedge their bets -- but ordinary voters whose back-and-forth donations mirror the undulations of the swing electorate.

Some have attended small fund-raisers for both men, curious to hear what the candidates' more ardent supporters have to say. Others have responded to the campaigns' daily barrages of e-mail solicitations, or to the ups and downs of the candidates' debate performances and public gaffes. Still others said they simply could not make up their minds.

"I'm all mixed up between being a conservative and a liberal," said Kurt Schoeneman, a grape grower from Northern California, who added that some of his friends thought he was "senile." He had found himself seized by waves of enthusiasm, Mr. Schoeneman said -- first for one candidate and then for the other.

"Some of these people, they just loathe Obama, and they'll write something really nasty about him," said Mr. Schoeneman, who has given checks to both candidates, most recently $100 to Mr. Romney in June and $100 to Mr. Obama in July. "And then something else will happen, and I'll go give Romney some money."

Charles Y. Chen, a salesman in Virginia, gave Mr. Romney $100 on the day of his convention speech in late August. But in September, Mr. Chen donated to Mr. Obama every few days, $50 here, $55 there. Then he switched again, giving Mr. Romney $50.

"I think the Republicans have better ideas on the economy and the Democrats have better ideas on social issues, immigration and social justice," Mr. Chen said in an interview. "Just like anything, both have something that they do great and something that they need to improve."

Gretchen Davidson, a homemaker in Birmingham, a Detroit suburb, said she had gone to several events to hear different ideas and arguments. She gave $500 to Mr. Romney in early August and $1,500 to Mr. Obama in late September.

"You have friends that throw parties on each side, and honestly, I am someone in the middle that didn't really know which way I was going," Ms. Davidson said. "You try to sort of see what people are so excited about."

Ms. Davidson has since settled on a candidate but declined to say which one. Other undecided donors suggested that they -- unlike the wealthy executives funneling millions of dollars into pro-Romney or pro-Obama "super PACs" -- did not have their hearts set on a particular outcome.

"I think the race is quite close, and I don't care much about who gets elected," said Kallol Bagchi, a business professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, whose areas of research include "decision sciences."

Mr. Bagchi gave $100 each to both candidates on Sept. 8, he said, because "they are doing good work for the country. And I want them to come together. So for that reason, I gave to them both."

Mr. Bagchi said that while he usually gave equally to both candidates, he had recently responded to a particularly personal appeal from the Obama campaign.

"I have given a little more to Barack Obama because he and Michelle were celebrating their anniversary," he said. "But on balance it was very equal."

Lobbyists or contractors, the sort of Beltway tradesmen and -women who need to ensure access no matter who wins, have always hedged their political giving. Chief executives of large companies face similar imperatives. Andrew N. Liveris of Michigan, the chairman of Dow Chemical, gave $5,000 to each candidate in the space of three weeks. He did not respond to a request for an interview.

But some of the less prominent undecided donors said they had been strategically bipartisan for different reasons.

Alexandre Scherer, an insurance executive in New York, said he had made his contributions -- $250 to Mr. Obama in August, $250 to Mr. Romney a day later -- because he believed that both candidates' reliance on corporate money had made it difficult for them to speak their real views on issues that are important to him, like financial regulation and Internet privacy.

"I thought to myself, maybe the best way to help is to give money to both candidates," Mr. Scherer said. "I am not sure who I am going to vote for yet, but I want them to address the topics that are important to me."

Alan Lezak, who helps run a family meatpacking business in Chicago and lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he had given to Mr. Obama because the president was his first choice and to Mr. Romney because he thought the former financial executive was his least worst alternative.

"I thought of all the people who might be running against Obama and who I thought really held the closest values to me," Mr. Lezak said. "Romney has come much more towards the center since he was nominated. So it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world as far as I am concerned."

Brian Schroeder, an executive based in Green Bay, Wis., said he was definitely voting Republican but had a particular reason for giving to Mr. Obama's campaign.

"First, I'm a Romney supporter," Mr. Schroeder said. "Secondly, I was being audited by the I.R.S."

Mr. Schroeder said he had been inundated with e-mails from the Obama campaign requesting contributions and feared consequences if he did not give.

"They get personal and aggressive," Mr. Schroeder said. "And I figure if he would be re-elected, I don't want to be on their list."

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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