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Vote resonates among military families

Associated Press

Dover, N.J. — Bush or Kerry? Kerry or Bush?

Cheryl Doltz isn't quite sure what she'll do once she steps into the voting booth Tuesday, carrying the memory of the soldier son she lost — and a dog-tag necklace with his image hanging around her neck.

She considers herself a liberal and believes a victory by Democratic challenger John Kerry would be better for public education. But she thinks President George W. Bush is a better choice to lead the war on terror, and she knows her son would have pulled the lever for him. She's torn.

“If I could check a box that said ‘None of the above, we'd like a do-over,' I would,”' she said.

Ms. Doltz, 57, lost her 26-year-old son — National Guardsman Ryan Doltz — when the Humvee he was driving was bombed in Baghdad last June. For people like her with military connections, the vote on Tuseday carries deeper meaning.

The United States' involvement in Iraq and its deployment of thousands of National Guard members and reservists for the war on terror have thrust soldiers, sailors, marines, veterans and their families into what could be a pivotal role Tuesday.

Among them, Mr. Bush is usually thought to be the favourite.

“Based on all the information I've seen, both veterans and uniformed military are voting pretty substantially for Bush,” said Larry Sabato, political science professor at the University of Virginia. “The figures drop a little when you include military families, but not much. This is one of Bush's constituencies and it's working for him. He needs them and he needs them badly.”

In an on-line poll of 2,046 service members, veterans and their families sponsored by The American Legion, Mr. Bush led Mr. Kerry by a nine-point margin. The non-scientific survey, conducted between Aug. 27 and Oct. 25, was part of a campaign by the Legion to educate and mobilize veterans to vote.

Ryan Doltz, the dead Guardsman, was what his mother calls an “ultra conservative,” usually on the other side of their political discussions.

His mother, a registered Democrat who teaches fifth grade at East Dover Elementary School in Morris County, goes back and forth between the candidates.

“One day, one does something that sounds so good, your opinion changes. That's why this election is so close. People are listening much more closely, and they have ever since 9/11,” she said.

Still, she won't decide who'll get her vote until she steps into the booth.

William McGinnis knows how he will vote. He likes Mr. Kerry.

Mr. McGinnis, 51, also lost a son in Iraq. Marine Corps Sergeant Brian McGinnis was among three who died in a 2003 helicopter crash in southern Iraq.

Sgt. McGinnis, 23, was nearing the end of a five-year hitch and wrote a letter to his father day before he died. It arrived two weeks later, after he had died.

“It's like a bad movie,” Mr. McGinnis said.

He says Mr. Bush misled the nation and misled his son, giving up on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden for a misguided foray into Iraq.

“Some people don't feel that way, but they don't have an interest like we do. What did my son die for? Every six weeks, the reason changes. They thought they were going to defend our country and go after weapons of mass destruction. He didn't go over there to give them democracy,” Mr. McGinnis said.

When he goes into the voting booth, he'll be thinking of his son, said the registered Democrat.

“I'm voting Bush out, for my son and everybody's son. When I vote him out, it's going to be like ‘George Bush, you're fired'.”

Another father who lost a son in Iraq, Alexander Dixon, plans to vote for Mr. Bush, for reasons unrelated to the war.

His son, was an Army cavalry scout killed last August when a bomb exploded near his guard post in Samarra.

“I'm voting for the Republican Party because I have spiritual beliefs, as far as the preservation of life. I'm against abortion and I have a feeling Bush and the Republican Party do more to preserve the moral culture of this nation,” Mr. Dixon said.

The war and the loss of his son did not affect his decision, he said.

“It's the worst thing I've ever experienced in my life. Parents on both sides of this conflict suffer like I do, like my wife does and our other children do,” he said.

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