- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The pair of Republican presidential debates on CNN this week spanned five hours - long enough for someone to drive clear across New Hampshire and back again. But some voters in the state that will host the first primaries in 2016 still have a long way to go in settling on a favorite.

The Associated Press is following a group of Republican, Democratic and independent voters in New Hampshire as they assess the candidates and make up their minds. None of them bothered to watch the early-evening debate featuring the lower-polling candidates, but here’s what some of them had to say about the top-tier debate:

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AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE

Andrew Hardister, of Concord, who works in software sales, was on a business trip Wednesday, so being “trapped in a hotel room” made it an easy choice to tune in.

Hardister, an undeclared voter who plans to vote in the GOP primary, said he had been leaning toward former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and had largely written off the U.S. senators seeking the nomination. After the debate, he said he whittled his list down to five: Bush, Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“There’s about 10 of them I just wish would get off the stage and go home so the other five can have some room to expand,” said Hardister, 45.

Fiorina’s “no-nonsense” performance was the perfect antidote to billionaire businessman Donald Trump while Rubio’s detailed answers on foreign policy showed both passion and intellectual capacity, he said.

“What did surprise me was how poorly (Wisconsin Gov.) Scott Walker did, and how desperate he seemed,” Hardister said.

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MOVING UP

Bob Decolfmacker went into the debate as a Bush supporter and left feeling the same way. Decolfmacker, of Dover, said Bush performed well and showed off his policy chops, in stark contrast to Trump.

“Between Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and now Carly Fiorina, I think there’s four on the elevator here,” said Decolfmacker, a 62-year-old Republican and self-employed college consultant.

Decolfmacker and his wife saw Fiorina speak in New Hampshire earlier this year. They were impressed then and again in the debate.

“I just loved her comment that she had back to Donald Trump on her looks,” he said.

Decolfmacker has yet to be wowed by Walker.

“I’ve always left my opinions open about Scott Walker, and I still don’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling,” he said.

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PACK YOUR BAGS, TRUMP

Michelle McFadden, a 53-year-old nurse, has had it with Trump. She didn’t watch the debate Wednesday due to a vacation, but she follows the GOP contest closely and tries to see every candidate.

She once thought Trump brought a light entertainment to the field. No more.

“I’m done, pack your bag and go home,” she said. “When he went after Carly Fiorina, give me a break. Like (he’s) drop dead gorgeous?”

McFadden, an undeclared voter who likely will vote in the Republican primary, has yet to choose a candidate. She finds Marco Rubio “milquetoast,” although she hasn’t seen him in person. Of Bush, she says “I’m not very excited about him, but I could in good conscience vote for him, I think.”

She also hopes to see Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal when they are in New Hampshire.

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NONE OF THE ABOVE?

Jason McKinney, a Republican who lives in Manchester and works for a financial services firm, said he still doesn’t know whether he can back any of the candidates.

“I don’t really care for any of them,” said McKinney, 37. “At this point, you start to know so much about their policies or their personalities, and it ends up being one or both of them you don’t care for. That’s the challenge I’m running into.”

McKinney who describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, said he has ruled out Trump, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Paul. His top three are Rubio, Christie and Kasich, though not necessarily in that order. He’s been particularly disappointed in Bush’s debate performances.

“His delivery is just so poor and so uninspiring, and he’s a Bush,” he said. “If his name was Fred Jones, I think he’d do better. Maybe he wouldn’t raise as much money, but I wouldn’t hold it against him so much.”

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