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Independents Wary Of Conventions

North Carolina has one of the fastest growing groups of independent voters in the country. About one quarter of the state's registered voters are unaffiliated. And those unaffiliated voters are expected to play a big role in determining the outcome of the presidential race. About a year ago, a group of unaffiliated voters formed a new non-partisan organization called North Carolina Independents. Jessica Jones met with three of its members to see what they think of this week's Republican National Convention.

Jessica Jones: Omar Ali is a history professor at UNC-Greensboro who's a founding member of North Carolina Independents. He says he's looking forward to seeing how Republican Mitt Romney presents himself in his official acceptance speech tonight.

Omar Ali: I expect him to try to portray himself in a more human way, in a way that his wife did a spectacular job at doing, and I think that he has to try to figure out how to connect with the American people. You know the vast majority of the American people who aren't the super wealthy.

Ali says he finds the scripted partisanship of both Democratic and Republican conventions a bit hard to watch. But he's interested to see if Romney will succeed in courting more independent voters like him. Ali voted for Barack Obama in 2008- and he's tentatively leaning toward the same choice this time, although he says he could change his mind. Linda Minney from Winston-Salem, has been watching the convention too. She says she was disappointed by many of the speeches, including one by the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie.

Linda Minney: In listening to Christie's speech, I felt like the issues I'm concerned about were not being addressed in a way that I could connect with. And I believe that this divisive atmosphere leaves out basically everybody I know. I have described myself as theologically conservative, socially liberal and politically disenfranchised.

Minney says environmental stewardship is the issue she cares about the most, but she rarely heard candidates talk about it. She's a disaster assistance reservist for FEMA who didn't vote in 2008 because she was deployed to help clean up after a hurricane in Puerto Rico. Minney voted for both Democrats and Republicans before deciding to register as an unaffiliated voter. Donna Moser, a chemist from High Point, was disappointed by Christie's speech too. She says she didn't agree with Chris Christie's assertion that Romney could turn the country around.

Donna Moser: I'm just dismayed that he could say that with a straight face, knowing that if Romney is elected, we're facing the same gridlock, the same political territory fights that go on and looking forward to the Democratic convention we're going to hear how the Dems are the only ones who care for poor people and their lives are going to be so starkly changed if Romney gets in.

Moser says she gets tired of hearing pronouncements like this from both Democrats and Republicans. She plans to vote for President Obama because she likes some of his policies, but Moser doesn't think the occupant of the Oval Office will be able to change the system.

Donna Moser: I really don't think it'll matter if it's Romney or Obama, because to work with the Congress, Congress is not going to change its ways not until it starts to see the light that the parties are controlling the politics.

As members of North Carolina Independents, Moser, Minney and Ali are probably more passionate about the political process than many other unaffiliated voters. They're concerned about what they call Republicans and Democrats' stranglehold over the political process and the enormous amount of money funneled to political campaigns. And they'd like to see the state have open primaries and nonpartisan redistricting and ballot access. They say they know they're not always understood.

All: Independents remain sort of a mystery./I find it interesting when I hear the pundits say which way, how are the independents going to go as if we're a single entity, and independent is clearly not a single entity./like we have a secret handshake or you're trying to figure out if we talk in code or are going this way or that way.

Ali, Minney and Moser say they're hopeful the day is not too far off when politicians will also act more like independents.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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