By MARSHA MERCER
If Mitt Romney wins the White House, he can thank voters like Dayle Mauck of Fredericksburg, Va.
Mauck, 57, is a swing voter in a key battleground state. He voted for Barack Obama four years ago, but he’s backing Romney Nov. 6.
“My theory is Obama is a good man and he means well, but he and Congress just butt heads,” Mauck told me. “Romney has been in business. He knows what it’s like. I’m looking for who can get the economy rolling again.”
Political commentators toss around the slogan “it’s the economy.” Voters like Mauck live with it every day, and it’s not pretty. He’s a home builder -- or was -- until the recession hit. Today he’s a home improvement contractor, waiting and hoping for a turnaround.
“Four years ago, I had 40 employees; now I have one. Four years ago, I had an office; now it’s in my home. I love to build houses,” he said as he took a break from updating my bath. “I don’t mind home improvement, but I love to build houses.”
Mauck prospered during the housing boom – building 15 or 20 houses a year and doing framing contract work for larger builders. He was able to pay his two sons’ way through college. But he also knew the crazy-good times couldn’t last. He recalls a day when 17 clients sat in a sales office in Fredericksburg, all ready to buy townhouses.
When the bottom dropped out of the housing market, he had to tell his sons, “You’re on your own. Get a loan.”
“I’m a construction worker. I’m not a tech person,” he said. “And there are a lot of guys like me out here. A ton of them are out of business and the rest are just hanging on and hoping the economy comes back.”
After 40 years in construction, Mauck is no stranger to economic downturns. When recession hit in the 1980s, he grabbed his tools and headed to Alaska for a few months. After that, he figured the Washington area was recession-proof but, he says, he was wrong.
White men without college degrees like Mauck back Romney over Obama 65 percent to 32 percent, according to the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll. Pollsters say this group more than any other has propelled Romney into a tight race with Obama on handling the economy.
“Those billions and billions in stimulus – they didn’t do anything as far as I can tell,” said Mauck, who thinks a billion or two should have gone to buy down mortgages so people could have stayed in their homes.
No fan of either political party, Mauck is an independent. Almost four in 10 voters now say they’re independents, up from 32 percent in 2008 and 30 percent in 2004. Self-described Democrats are 32 percent of the electorate, and self-described Republicans are 24 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
But many who call say they’re independents vote the same party nearly every election. Mauck isn’t like that.
He gave his first presidential vote to Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976, voted twice for Republican Ronald Reagan and then for George H. W. Bush. In 1992, Mauck thought Bill Clinton “the best and the brightest” and voted Democratic. In 1996, he went with Republican Bob Dole. In 2000, he voted for Democrat Al Gore and in 2004 for Republican George W. Bush.
Four years ago, Mauck and his wife Tana, an elementary school teacher, helped Barack Obama win Virginia and the White House. This time they’ll cancel out each other’s votes. Tana Mauck is sticking with Obama.
His friends at the Moose Lodge give him a hard time about voting for Obama, so “I just don’t mix politics and beer,” Dayle Mauck said.
He wishes he could still have good-natured political arguments, but when he and his buddies pile into his truck to go hunting, he has one rule -- “no politics and no religion.”
And what does he make of the charge that Romney is so rich he can’t possibly understand the problems of people like Dayle Mauck?
“I never knew a poor guy to give a man a job,” he said, with a hint of a smile.
© 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.