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2012 Presidential Race Grabbing Spotlight

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Now, the 2012 presidential race takes center stage.

Although the election is still a year away, a surprising number of voters across Fairfield County have already decided who they will — and won't — vote for. But some Republicans, independents and even Democrats say that it's too early to decide without knowing the Republican nominee or whether there will be a third-party candidate.

Many who say they voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 believe he's doing a decent - if not spectacular - job after eight years of a George W. Bush administration that they believe plunged the nation into a costly war in Iraq and a near depression at home.

Other Obama supporters say the president was naïve and wasted too much time and political capital trying to reach out to Republicans when he had a fully Democrat-controlled Congress during his first two years in the White House.

One supporter is Dr. Rebecca Brienza, 48, of Fairfield, who already knows she's voting for Obama – though she isn't as enthralled with the president as when he was a candidate and she worked to get him elected four years ago.

Brienza, a registered Democrat who had never been involved in politics before that, was so inspired by Obama the candidate she plunged "head-first" into the campaign as a volunteer – even traveling to key swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania to get out the vote.

As a doctor of internal medicine at the Veterans Administration Hospital in West Haven, Brienza has treated many returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan and has witnessed the "severe physical and emotional toll" those wars have taken on the soldiers.

Brienza said she has been disappointed at times by Obama the president. "I'm happy he (Obama) is ending the war in Iraq, but we have to get out of Afghanistan, too," Brienza said while looking over a wave of books by and about many of the potential 2012 presidential candidates at the new Fairfield University Bookstore.

"I had never been so moved by a political candidate, and I believed he would do most of the things he promised," said Brienza. "I was naïve to think he could do everything he said he would."

Still, she said, "the president hasn't done a bad job, especially considering the mess he inherited, and the Republican and Tea Party obstructionists in Congress voting against everything he proposes.

"It's just I thought he could have done more," she said.

Meanwhile, many Republicans say although they won't vote for Obama, they are not motivated by any of the current GOP candidates. "That (2012) may be one I'll have to sit out," said 31-year-old Jeff Stone, of Westport, a lifelong Republican who voted for John McCain in 2008. But he indicated he doesn't like or believe any of the current slate of GOP candidates would beat Obama.

"I was living in a big red state (Texas) that easily went Republican (in 2008), so I'm still trying to get used to all these crazy Obama supporters around me," joked Stone.

"Seriously, though, I think Obama has done a terrible job, and I'm still hoping my party will come up with a decent candidate that has a real chance to beat him. I mean, Mitt Romney? If that's the best we can do, we better start looking ahead to 2016."

Michelle Fontana, 53, said she also thinks Obama could have done more. Fontana said she closed down a home-décor and furniture store, Niche', in Darien three years ago and another seasonal boutique in a New England resort town last year — both the result of the economic downturn.

"I voted for Obama, but I have an open mind and am willing to wait and see who is running against him before deciding," said Fontana, a registered Democrat and Trumbull resident. "I realize he (Obama) inherited all of the troubles and problems the previous president left us with. But I don't think he's been tough enough with the Republicans, and I haven't seen nearly enough help for the small business owner."

Fontana is not impressed with the current slate of Republican presidential hopefuls, either, but said "l want to see who they actually nominate."

No matter whom the Republicans nominate, Steven Needham, 57, of Weston said he or she won't get his vote. "I wouldn't vote for a Republican if you put a gun to my head," said Needham, a registered Democrat. "The Republicans in Congress were willing to close down our country for political gain and continue to do everything they can to keep the president from turning the economy around. And this slate of candidates are a bunch of clowns."

But Paul Caciula, 28, of Fairfield, an unaffiliated voter, voted for Obama four years ago, but said he's disappointed by the president's record and is willing to vote for either a Republican or third-party candidate.

"I thought Obama would be different and make a difference," said Caciula, a junior web designer in Norwalk. "But he's like all the other politicians, not doing anything different or special."

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