Last week I journeyed up to New England to see what voters thought of the debate over Medicare, for another of our CJR Town Halls, which this political season have been focused on Medicare. Polls continue to show that most Americans are wary about the voucher plan advocated by the GOP ticket, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Some people I met in Gloucester, MA., didn’t know much about the debate, but had plenty to say about the economy and about the tight Senate race between the Republican incumbent, Scott Brown, and his challenger, Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. Signs for both appeared on many of the well-trimmed lawns of Cape Ann, perhaps indicating the intensityof the race. What came through in my interviews with Democrats and Republicans was a reflection of an intensely divided state, and country.

Olivia Zewinski

At the Minglewood Tavern, some people were reluctant to chat, saying they were tired of hearing about politics and the election. Olivia Zewinski, age 24, was not voting: “I’m embarrassed. I’m not registered to vote,” she said. She had missed the registration deadline. In the past when she was registered in other cities, Zewinski said she voted Democratic, and she supported Obama last time. She is studying nursing at a community college and works part time as a hostess at the LAT 43 restaurant. She told me that Medicare had been discussed in class. “I know Medicare is a huge deal,” she said. “It’s scary. I know the upcoming people will need care. My mother talks about it. She’s part of the population who will need care.” Other than that, Zewinsky didn’t know too much about the candidates’ proposals. She did say she liked Elizabeth Warren.

John and Tom

Two burly men sat at the restaurant bar. John, who’s 47, wouldn’t give his last name but he had a lot to say. He is a project manager for a construction contractor, and he’s been doing that job for 25 years for three different employers. “I’m a Republican, shading toward the side of Independent,” he told me, “I used to be a staunch Republican, but my views have changed.”

John was clear, though, he would vote for Brown. “He’s the hands-down candidate for me. The other candidate is too far on the other side, and I don’t go around telling people I’m an Indian when I’m not.” That was a reference to Warren claiming she was of Cherokee heritage. “I’m happy with the type of person Scott Brown is,” John said. “He looks like a real workingman’s politician.”

John said he is ticked off in some way about Obama’s birth certificate, adding that the president “makes inferences he’s a Muslim. He really has Muslim preferences. He has clearly said his father is a Muslim.” Where did he get this information? John said it was from a clip put together by “Hannity and Colmes” of Fox News fame, presumably meaning Sean Hannity. He told me he didn’t watch a lot of political shows but reads the Boston Herald. Not, he points out, The Boston Globe, which he calls the “Boston Democratic.”

John explained he would vote for Romney “because the country needs a business presence, not a community-organizing presence. The guy he picked for vice president has straightened out Wisconsin pretty good.” How? I wanted to know since Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has been in Congress, not the statehouse in Madison. Ryan went after the unions, John thought, and he likes that. “The unions are killing us right now.”

John’s friend, Tom age 46, said he was an undecided voter. “I can lean either way,” he said, especially in the Senate race. “I have to listen to one more debate.” Brown and Warren had debated the day before I talked to Tom. “Some believe she lost in the first 55 seconds. It’s one to nothing now for Scott Brown.” Brown brought up he Cherokee thing and with it more controversy about Warren’s candidacy. What did John think of he debate? “I don’t think she’s that articulate,” he said.

Jeannine Mitchell and Stephen Dylinski

Down the street I met Jeannine Mitchell, 64, and her husband, Stephen Dylinski, 62, retired high school teachers, dining The Pub at Cape Ann Brewing Co. They were from Doylestown, PA., and touring the Massachusetts coast. They were happy to chat. Both are disgusted with Romney and will vote for the president. “Romney is crazy. He’s a terrible, terrible candidate. He was wrong to say that 47 percent of the people are on the dole. He’s a hyper-elite guy and doesn’t understand real people, Mitchell said. Her husband interjected, “He’s never stepped into a Philadelphia high school.”

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.