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Newly arriving sailors to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk watch the New Hampshire primary returns on Wednesday.

Newly arriving sailors to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk watch the New Hampshire primary returns on Wednesday. (Chris Fowler / S&S)

U.S. servicemembers and civilians in the Pacific didn’t shy from talking politics Wednesday as primary results in Iowa and Wyoming last week and New Hampshire this week indicated the 2008 race for president still has no clear favorite.

Of more than two dozen people interviewed in mainland Japan, on Okinawa and in South Korea, many cited the war in Iraq as the most important issue to them this election year.

Even more said they were ready for a “fresh face,” favoring a candidate with the ability to bring about change over one with a deep political resume.

A few admitted they didn’t care. As one airman at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, put it: “I am not very political.”

But many said that for the first time in a long time, they were paying attention to the primary elections, intrigued by the possibility of having the first female president in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., or the first racial minority president in Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill..

“It could be history in the making,” said Army Sgt. Joel Black of 595th Maintenance Company at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

While a few already have settled on a candidate, most said they were undecided — at least to a degree.

“I’m going for Obama or Hillary,” said Tech. Sgt. Shanika McBride, 30, of Misawa Air Base, Japan. “They say what they mean. They stand for something. It’s time for a change anyway.”

With a husband about to deploy, the war in Iraq is issue No. 1 for her.

“Getting troops out of the war zone,” McBride said. “They need to come home to their families.”

Seaman Michellia Patton of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, also is torn between Clinton and Obama.

But if it came down to it, she said, “I would rather see the first female president than the first black president. Women think differently than men do, and we need to make a change.”

Tech Sgt. Josue Rivera, 33, of Misawa Air Base, said he’s unsure if the country is ready for a female president, “but I am.”

He’d be happy, however, with any of the Democratic candidates as president.

“We’re not allowed to really talk about it because we’re in the military, but a lot of people are really fed up with the situation,” he said. “It’s time for a change, somebody with new ideas.”

Others, like U.S. Forces Korea contractor Don Parker, are taking rhetoric about change with a grain of salt.

“Everybody is talking about change. Change what? Is it all just cosmetic surgery, or is it something the general populace can benefit from?” he asked. “If change is what we want, then why would we elect someone who’s been in the government for 30 years? We need someone new but not too new.”

Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, commissary contractor Elliot Jones said candidates are saying “what you want to hear, but the key is what they are going to do once you put them in office?.”

With an active-duty wife, Jones is focused on the war in Iraq. He’s interested in Clinton and Obama, and, on the GOP side, former senator Fred Thompson.

“ … I am seeing who is going to have the backbone to bring the troops home,” he said.

In South Korea, Maj. Conreau Williams, 37, an Area II public health nurse with 18th MEDCOM, said some soldiers are following the election closely, because they know the next president’s policies will determine their future.

“They just want to know: ‘Where am I going to be in the next couple of years, and what am I going to be doing?’” she said.

Williams, who said she’s looking for a candidate who’s honest, is concerned about health care — for her family and, someday, when she leaves the military, for herself. She’s also concerned about the economy.

Chief Petty Officer Todd Mullanix, of Sasebo Naval Base, is concerned how the next president will treat America’s image abroad and the economy.

“Our economy, I think, is teetering on the edge. Everybody wants to say it’s good, but I think we can do better,” said Mullanix, a lifelong Democrat.

The country, he added, needs a chief executive who can bridge the divide between right and left politics, he added.

“I think [Obama] for sure brings a lot more of that than [Clinton] would bring, for the simple fact she is not very well liked across the other side of the aisle,” Mullanix said. “She’s viewed somewhat as being far on the left-hand side.”

Many servicemembers said they were registered to vote but would likely vote in just the Nov. 4 general election.

Second Lt. Scott Brehmer of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment said he follows the races closely but won’t vote in his native Michigan primary because of the cumbersome process.

“Honestly, it’s a big pain … if they’d find a way to make it easier, that would be great,” Brehmer said at Camp Casey, South Korea, on Wednesday.

Iraq and energy prices topped Brehmer’s agenda. A fresh face may be able to handle those issues in a new way, he said.

“People with experience didn’t do so great recently,” he said. “It seems like they all learn on the fly once they get there anyway.”

That expectation is leading Brehmer, 37, to consider voting differently than in years past.

“Usually, I vote Republican, but if Obama pulls it out, I’ll be possibly looking to vote for him,” Brehmer said.

Tech. Sgt. Ryan Wyckoff, of Kadena Air Base, said he’s registered to vote in Texas. For him, the candidate to watch is Obama.

“He just seems firm about his beliefs,” he said, adding that conviction in one’s ideas is important to him.

Petty Officer 1st Class Vincent James Dean of Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, said he’s sticking with the Republicans but hasn’t made up his mind.

“They’re all Mickey Mouse,” he said. “They care more about getting elected than they do about the people.”

But Dean said he’ll likely cast a ballot for either Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., or former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

“I’m definitely going to vote. I have to,” he said. “Or else I have no right to complain.”

Stars and Stripes reporters Bryce Dubee, Cindy Fisher, Chris Fowler, Jimmy Norris, Ashley Rowland, Erik Slavin and Travis Tritten contributed to this story.

Primary DeadlinesTime is running out to register for the primary elections. The deadline has passed for Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia, as well as Iowa and New Hampshire, which have held their contests.

Some states require registration before you can receive a ballot, and some have different deadlines based on party affiliation. In states holding caucuses, ballots will be accepted only for the general election in November.

Following are states’ registration deadlines and primary election dates:

Alabama — Jan. 25/Feb. 5.Alaska — Caucus.Arizona — Feb. 5/Feb. 5.Arkansas — Jan. 5/Feb. 5.California — Jan. 22/Feb. 5.Colorado — Caucus.Connecticut Feb. 4/Feb. 5.Delaware — Jan. 21/Feb. 5.District of Columbia — Jan. 14/Feb. 12.Florida — Dec. 31/Jan. 29.Georgia — Jan. 25/Feb. 5.Hawaii — Caucus.Idaho — May 2/May 27.Illinois — Jan. 5/Feb. 5.Indiana — April 7/May 6.Iowa — Caucus.Kansas — Caucus.Kentucky — April 21/May 20.Louisiana — Jan. 9/Feb. 9.Maine — Caucus.Maryland — Jan. 22/Feb. 12.Massachusetts — Feb. 4/Feb. 5.Michigan — Jan. 15/Jan. 15.Minnesota — Caucus.Mississippi — Feb. 10/March 11.Missouri — Jan. 9/Feb. 5.Montana — May 8/June 3.Nebraska — April 28/May 13.Nevada — Caucus.New Hampshire — Jan. 7/Jan. 8.New Jersey — Feb. 1/Feb. 5.New Mexico — Jan. 21*/Feb. 5 (D), June 3 (R).New York — Jan. 16/Feb. 5.North Carolina — May 5/May 6.North Dakota — Caucus.Ohio — Feb. 4/March 4.Oklahoma — Jan. 30/Feb. 5.Oregon — April 29/May 20.Pennsylvania — March 24/April 22.Rhode Island — Feb. 12/March 4.South Carolina(D) — Dec. 26/Jan. 26.South Carolina(R) — Dec. 19/Jan. 19.South Dakota — May 19/June 3.Tennessee — Jan. 7/Feb. 5.Texas — Feb. 4/March 4.Utah — Jan. 7/Feb. 5.Vermont — Feb. 25/March 4.Virginia — Jan. 14/Feb. 12.Washington — Feb. 19/Feb. 19.West Virginia — April 22/May 13.Wisconsin — Jan. 30/Feb. 19.Wyoming — Caucus.*New Mexico is holding caucuses, but the state’s Democratic party is sending out overseas ballots.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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