'I'm a Lifelong Republican in Dixville Notch Who Just Voted for Biden'

In 1956 when I was seven, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was being re-elected and my mother and my father gave me an "I like Ike" button. I probably wore it to school every day in the first grade.

My father was born in Germany in 1886 and came to America after losing his fortune at the hands of Hitler. Our family that was left behind was freed by the Allied forces and Eisenhower became commander of all U.S. troops in the Europe in World War II, so obviously my household was an Eisenhower household. For me, being a Republican was kind of like brushing your teeth.

I was a normal American kid and went on to college in the late '60s and early '70s. I protested the Vietnam War and marched for civil rights. Then I built a career in the recreation industry and I got involved in baseball and was partner and vice chairman of the Boston Red Sox for a while. Now, I'm in the renewable energy business. But I ended up living in Dixville Notch because a marvellous old resort called The Balsams closed, and I decided to take on the challenge of bringing it back to life.

In the meantime, I found myself spending more and more time in Dixville Notch and I became a resident here. I started voting here back in 2016 and have participated in five of these New Hampshire midnight votes—where several communities vote at midnight on election day—in that time.

I had been relatively silent about the ways in which I felt the conservative principles I believed in from the 60s were eroding, but the kicker for me came in March, 2020.

I had a friend who had grown up in the same town as me in New Jersey, called Larry Rasky. He was a well-known Boston PR and first worked with Joe Biden in 1988. He was a confidante of Biden and his communications director in 2008.

Larry and I had known each other for years and been working on projects together since 2000. We communicated, but there was no money or transaction, it was just two men of the same era, one Republican and one Democrat, exchanging ideas. As we talked in recent years, it became clear to me that Biden held more of the principles that I hold dear.

Then around March 15, Larry contracted COVID-19 and on March 23, he died. He was one of the first victims of the virus in America, it was confirmed after he passed that it had been from COVID-19. That was the turning point for me, where I felt the reaction to the virus showed something inherently wrong was happening with the Republican party. I felt that President Donald Trump was not someone who represented me as a Republican.

So the choice became, do I change parties or do I stick my neck out at the appropriate time and explain why I think the Republican party is wrong. I chose the latter. I chose to stay a registered Republican and I chose to take a moment in time to speak out.

But it took me until the November 3 midnight vote to have the guts to step forward, as a lifelong Republican, as a person who believes in the party and as someone who has put their neck out in politics for the Republicans, to essentially say in this video that we posted on Twitter: "Sorry, guys, I've had enough now."

I needed to say it and suffer the consequences with friends and relatives who were clearly shocked by my decision. The part that has been really strange is that lifelong Republican friends, who I know are still Trump supporters, were not offended, they were really respectful of my decision.

I made the decision independently. It's not that I was making a lifestyle decision, like announcing a new job or office, it was an opportunity to be expressive. My common sense told me that this was a moment that was important to me. I wanted to be able to say to my children, my grandchildren, my nieces and nephews—because I have a giant family—that I was not going to be silent. I had something to say and I had an opportunity to do that, and so that's what I did. And that's what I feel good about.

I would feel horrible on election day if I had thought it and not done it. So, if there's a takeaway in all this for me, it's that I had that moment, and I decided to take it.

Not all, but most of us, look for the affirmation of others. It influences the decision making process. So of course there was a fear of being disliked, rejected or being shunned.

But when we went to bed last night the video on Twitter was already up to around 500,000 views so we knew a lot of people had watched. But I was amazed when it reached even 1,000 views. I feel like it has also struck a chord with other Republicans.

But my interest now is watching the outcome of the election, now that I've hung myself out to dry. Did I end up on the right side or am I going to get pasted for the rest of my life for taking a chance and being on the wrong side?

But more importantly, if you take my name and face away from it, the message is that we need to understand democracy, to understand that the only power we have over our lives to protect ourselves is to exercise the right to vote. If my actions get one more person out to vote today, then the effort is worth it.

Leslie B. "Les" Otten is a businessman, sports fan and father. Amongst others, he was founder and CEO of American Skiing Company and co-founder of Maine Energy Systems. He is a former partner and vice chairman of the Boston Red Sox and is currently renovating The Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. Otten lives in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire and has three children.

All views expressed in this piece are the writer's own.

As told to Jenny Haward