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Columbia Missourian

Undecided Columbia voters face challenge

By Elizabeth Lucas, Regan McTarsney, and Maneeza Iqbal
September 30, 2008 | 10:13 p.m. CDT

Three Columbia residents prepare to cast their first presidential ballots, but they have only a month to make their choice.

Keith Clark poses for a portrait with his children (left) Daunte, 3, and Kumani, 6 months, on Sept. 30 at his house in Columbia. Clark is undecided as to whom he will vote for in this year's presidential election. His two main concerns are his children and the economy. He wants to know what each candidate can guarantee for his children's future.


With barely more than a month to go before the nation chooses its next president, many Americans already have decided which candidate will get their support when they go to the polls on Nov. 4.

PICKING A PRESIDENT

The Missourian will follow three undecided voters through the remainder of the presidential campaign, right up to Election Day on Nov. 4. To read blog posts from them and the reporters covering them, visit our Picking a President blog at missourianundecided.wordpress.com.


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And then there are those who haven't. An Associated Press-Yahoo poll conducted Sept. 24 showed that 18 percent of prospective voters are either undecided or are willing to change their minds before Election Day. Gallup Daily Poll Tracking during September showed that percentage much lower, fluctuating between 6 percent and 8 percent.
But in an election in which the two major-party candidates are in a virtual dead heat, even a small percentage of swing voters has the potential to alter the outcome.

It’s clear that Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama will be working hard during the next few weeks to win those people over.
But what will it take to do that? Where will those voters get their information? And what issues are most important to them?

To find out, the Missourian recruited three undecided Columbia voters — Miguel Lopez, Keith Clark and Amy Davis — willing to let us watch and learn from them over the frenetic final weeks of the campaign season. We’ll check in with them from time to time to see what they’re reading, what they’re hearing and what they’re thinking. Keep reading to learn more about who they are.

Keith Clark: 'Show me something'

Keith Clark, 37, is a former boxer from New York who is now a stay-at-home dad in Columbia. He’s never voted before, and he’s still waiting for the candidates to prove they stand for something. To Keith, actions speak  louder than words, and so far, he said, he’s seen nothing but talk.

“Show me something,” Keith said. “Show me you can be a president who stays by his word and not have Congress tell you what to do.”
Keith isn’t sold on McCain because he sees him as a puppet of the Republican Party and a potential continuation of the Bush administration. And he thinks Obama is unnecessarily playing the race card.

“By no means is this a black-or-white issue,” Keith said. “I’m married to a white woman, and I have mulatto kids, so I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of Obama because he’s black. And I’m definitely not jumping on the stereotype that a white man can do it all.”
Keith has paid more attention to the issues since starting a family, which includes a 3-year-old son and a 6-month old daughter. He wants to know where the candidates stand on education and health care, especially since his parents have grown older.

Keith said he is sensitive to the needs of veterans and of the troops overseas, and he thinks immigration is a major issue.
Keith is looking to choose a candidate who can “talk the talk and walk the walk.” So far, he said, neither McCain nor Obama has impressed him.

“When they can show me something different,” Keith said, “that’s when I’ll make my decision.”

Miguel Lopez: 'I need change, I want change'

Miguel Lopez’s brand new citizenship in the United States didn’t come packaged with allegiance to a political party. His six-year history here has produced neither love nor hatred for Democrats or Republicans. He has no family history with U.S. politics to lean on.

Still, Miguel, 37, must decide who will get his support for president in November by reading newspapers, watching debates and weighing the issues. He wants a president who will bring about change, especially considering the status of the economy.

Miguel said that no single person or party can be blamed for the mess, but that he believes a lot of bad decisions have been made. We need a president who can make good decisions, he said.
“I need change, I want change, you know,” he said. “I don’t want more Bush.”

Miguel said he doesn’t think McCain is the same as George W. Bush, but Bush casts a shadow that McCain is going to have to shake.
Miguel spoke knowledgeably about issues he considers important: the economy, the war in Iraq and immigration policy. He listens carefully for what candidates say they will do for Latinos in the United States, a group he hopes to support with his vote.
“I want to help these people,” he said. “I think, with my vote, probably I can help them.”

Miguel sees politics here through the eyes of someone who grew up in Argentina, a country he described as much more passionate and much more corrupt than the United States. Party leaders there will pay citizens to show support by playing big drums or blowing air horns during a speech, and they’ll pay for votes as well.  

Miguel sees the need for change in his own country as well as in the United States. Argentina may be more corrupt, but what happens in the United States affects everybody around the world, he said. That’s why he’ll think carefully before he casts his first American ballot.

Amy Davis: '“I hope I can make a good enough decision that I'm not going to regret'

MU freshman journalism student Amy Davis, 18, will vote for the first time in the presidential election on Nov. 4. Even though she grew up in Oklahoma City, Amy decided to register in Columbia because of Missouri's history of being a swing state.
She wants her first vote to count.

“I just think that it actually does truly matter, and that one person's vote really can make a difference,” Amy said.
Amy became more interested in politics after coming to Columbia and becoming old enough to cast a ballot. She was apolitical throughout most of her life but stayed involved in the community during high school.

At MU, Amy is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and enjoys the philanthropy work it’s doing this semester.
Amy said she believes that this year’s election is really important and that she should stay involved so she can make an informed decision. She’s also found a split between the political philosophies of her friends here and her family back home.

“I think that's … another reason why I'm undecided (is) because I've kinda grown up with a Republican background all my life, and then now I'm finally getting to see the other side of it," Amy said.

Amy said that her parents have consistently voted Republican in elections and that her new friends and roommate have Democratic views. She discusses the issues with all of them, and she watches the news and reads the paper to stay up to date on the candidates and their views.

Amy said her goal throughout the election season has been to become an informed voter.

“I hope I can make a good enough decision that I'm not going to regret," Amy said. “It's always disappointing if you vote for someone that doesn't act in the way you were hoping in office.”