Samantha Hocker, 34, who also lives in nearby Beach Lake, was pushing her five-year-old son Eliott in a grocery cart. As we chatted, he busied himself with his new model of a John Deere Gator, a pre-school graduation present. When I asked Hocker if the candidates were speaking to her needs, she answered: “To be honest, I’m not even watching it. Between work”—as a special education teachers’ aide—“the kids, T-ball, and dancing classes, the election is not on my list of priorities.”

But we talked more, and she blurted out: “I’m so disgusted with Obama. I voted for him. He was pushing for better education, and he didn’t come through. We were going to get more money for education, but he hasn’t helped with that.” Instead, she figures, the money got caught up in the war in Iraq. She talked about lay-offs in some Pennsylvania school districts and school closings. That bothered her. “Obama had a lot of people in education who voted for him,” she said, adding that they probably won’t vote for him now.

Hocker said she would probably end up voting for whomever her husband, a mechanic, tells her to vote for, even though they voted for different candidates last time around. She said he was a staunch Republican. “I really did start out liking Obama; he had some really great ideas. They just didn’t work. ”

Denise

Denise, a 40-year-old fourth grade teacher from northeastern New Jersey, wouldn’t give her last name or the town she lived in. She, too, at first was hesitant to talk, but once she got started, she had a lot to say—especially about education. As a teacher and as a member of the teachers’ union, she worries.

Denise has worked eighteen years in New Jersey public schools, and she does not like what is happening to labor unions in Wisconsin, which she called “the stomping ground for the rest of the world.” What’s happening there could happen in New Jersey or anywhere, she said: “They are stripping away union rights in Wisconsin. It was stuff that was negotiated.”

Denise said until nine months ago she was a staunch Republican but has “walked away from the Republican Party. I’m done with the Republican Party.” I asked why. “It’s the war on unions,” she replied. “A year ago I would have said ‘no’ there’s not a war on the middle class. Now I believe that.” She doesn’t care much for New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, either. “He is such a liar. I could go on and on about it.”

The other issue that captures her attention: “Romney is ignoring women’s issues, reproductive rights, and contraception,” she told me. And as the mother of a nine-year-old, she was worried about what contraceptive options might be available to her daughter in the future. “We are going back to the Stone Age,” she said. Who would Denise vote for? “I don’t love Obama either,” she said, noting she was against the idea of a Nanny State. “I think I’m a libertarian.”

David

Then I met David, 40, a New York City cop who works in the Bronx and declined to give his surname. He was visiting relatives in the Poconos. He said he had been a cop for eighteen years but was on desk duty now. “Some lunatic on welfare,” he said, had beaten him up. David said he was “not a big political person. All I know is, they screw me over every two weeks. It’s the taxes.”

The longer we talked, the clearer it became that David did not like welfare programs at all. “That’s the big thing with me—multiple generations on welfare. They live in the projects and all have big screen TVs. They’re living scot-free.” Still, David did not favor scrapping welfare entirely. “They should just revamp it,” he said.

What about the presidential candidates? On that topic he was as decisive as he was about welfare. “None of the politicians are speaking to me,” he said. “They should get rid of all of them and start from scratch. They’re all crooks. They waste my money. There’s no management. Social Security is mismanaged. The whole government is mismanaged.” Who will he vote for? “I am definitely not voting for Obama because of the fiscal crisis,” he said, somewhat defiantly. “I think almost anybody is better than him.” I asked David to sum up in a word how he felt about contemporary politics. “Frustrated,” he said.

Linda

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.