By Steve Holland and Amanda Becker
MANCHESTER, N.H./WATERLOO, Iowa (Reuters) - - To Barb Stensland, who works at a soda counter in Grundy County, Iowa, Donald Trump was just telling it "the way it is” when he called this week for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Though the Republican presidential front-runner's comments have stirred international outrage, Stensland, a Trump fan, said the comments did nothing to diminish her support.
"We need someone who can speak the truth. We want some answers," said Stensland, 68, as she cleared dishes and coffee cups at a family-run pharmacy on Wednesday afternoon.
Stensland was not alone in her views, according to more than 30 Republicans interviewed in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. While many voters said they were uncomfortable with Trump’s rhetoric, there was also a widespread feeling that he had given voice to people's fears of threats from Islamic State militants.
In a Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies PulsePoll, almost two-thirds of likely 2016 Republican primary voters backed Trump's call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. More than a third said the comments would make them more likely to vote for him.
Fears of terrorism had ebbed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. But a jittery mood has returned after a succession of deadly attacks, starting with the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, followed by the Paris attacks in November and, most recently, the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California by a radicalised Muslim couple.
"I spent a year in Vietnam and I had to worry about the Viet Cong jumping out of the bushes to ambush me. When I came back to America in 1969 I didn't have to worry about that,” said veteran Dave Copson of Loudon, New Hampshire. “But now you have to worry about who knows what - attacks, beheadings, bombs, massacres. Right in our own country! It's ridiculous."
Some Republican voters do not see Trump's idea as an absolute policy, but one that would provide much-needed extra screening to keep out radicalised Muslims, such as those who might be lurking among the Syrian refugees who are to be resettled in the United States.
Patricia Tollenger, a Republican from Bedford, New Hampshire, said the Boston Marathon bombing by radicalised brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - who came to the United States as children with their parents - was proof enough that some holes in the U.S. immigration and visa system needed to be plugged.
"How did they slip through?" Tollenger said. "I'm tired of the slip-throughs. The appealing part to me about Trump is he's a man of action," said Tollenger, who is considering a variety of Republican candidates.
Still, many voters in Iowa, which holds its caucus on Feb. 1, and New Hampshire, which has its primary on Feb. 9, said Trump’s comments about Muslims showed that the New York billionaire was a loose cannon who must be defeated because he is unelectable.
"Too off the wall," said Peter Weeks, a Republican who is a former mayor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Said Republican Charles Tenney from Bow, New Hampshire, of Trump’s plan: "It's against everything that the United States stands for."
And Robert Janssen, a retired farmer, truck driver and army vet, in Grundy County, Iowa, said the Trump proposal served as a reminder that "I would rather see anybody but Trump" win the Republican nomination.
But some Republican voters said Trump was striking a chord with many.
"I think he said what a lot of people would like to say," said Joseph Baroody, as he sipped a cup of coffee at the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire. Baroody said he still might vote for Trump but is also looking at Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Renae Hickemeyer, 32, a Republican small-business owner in Grundy County, Iowa, said Trump was reacting out of emotion.
“It does scare me a little bit because he's stubborn, but what we've been doing isn't working," she said.
An average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com showed Trump with a commanding lead among Republican voters in New Hampshire, with 27 percent support compared with 12 percent for his closest rival, Rubio.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in New Hampshire and Amanda Becker in Iowa; Editing by Leslie Adler)