Undecided trio hopes for more substance from debates

Wednesday, October 1, 2008 | 6:35 p.m. CDT; updated 9:50 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 1, 2008

This is the second part of a three-part series.

COLUMBIA — Thursday night’s debate between vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden will be an important milestone for Keith Clark, Amy Davis and Miguel Lopez, primarily because the three undecided voters know little or nothing about the nominees.

The debate, which begins at 8 p.m. at Washington University in St. Louis, will be broadcast live on all the major networks. Keith, Amy and Miguel all said they plan to tune in.

Keith said he’s heard little about Palin, the Alaska governor and Republican running mate of Arizona Sen. John McCain, or about Biden, the Delaware senator who’s on the Democratic ticket with Barack Obama. He has seen USA Today stories about Palin’s family, as well as comedian Tina Fey’s impressions of Palin on “Saturday Night Live.”

“She seems like the brunt of a lot of jokes these days,” Keith said of Palin, “and that really tells me that she is actually a joke and her presidential candidate is the same way. He’s a joke to me, too.”

At the same time, Keith thinks his lack of knowledge about Biden might be a bad sign. “I don’t hear anything about him, and that kind of scares me.”

Amy admits she doesn't know as much about the vice-presidential candidates as she would like. She hopes the debate will help. She plans to watch after taking her biology lab test.

“Obviously, they will support their presidential candidate, but I wonder if their policies will be exactly the same or different," Amy said. "(The debate) will encourage me to vote one way, but it won't make my decision."

Miguel said he, too, will be keeping an eye on Thursday’s debate because he recognizes the importance of the vice presidential candidates. He said he’s especially interested in hearing what Palin has to say, given McCain’s age and the possibility that she might have to step in as president if something happens to McCain.

Keith said he hopes the candidates will talk about education and health care.

“I’d like to see the loyalty that they express and what real values that they have,” Clark said. “I’d like to ask them if they were poor and they were in our shoes, ‘How would you feel about things?’”

None of the three voters was satisfied with last Thursday’s debate between Obama and McCain. Both Amy and Keith said the candidates were too busy arguing with each other to make their stances on the issues clear.

“It really didn’t seem like they were talking about anything of any value,” Keith said.

Amy watched the first presidential candidate debate on YouTube after the fact. Overall, she said she was disappointed. Rather than learning about the candidates' views and policy plans, she said, she got nothing but banter.

"They would talk about the other's voting record, then the other would deny it," she said. "I didn't know who was telling the truth, which confused me even more."

Amy would have liked to see the candidates go deeper on their plans for the economy and foreign affairs.

Keith said he read news stories Thursday about McCain wanting to focus on the economy instead of attending the Friday debate. He said the fact that McCain showed up is evidence his advisers are calling the shots.

“I feel that McCain was forced into doing this debate because he had said he didn't want to, but his puppet masters were saying, ‘You must do this,’” Keith said. “I feel like if he gets into office he will be a puppet.”

Keith said Obama, meanwhile, was a good speaker but came off like a used-car salesman. He didn’t like Obama leading his statements with the phrase “When I’m president …”

“That’s like Chase Daniel saying, ‘When I win the Heisman,’ when he’s not a candidate yet.”

Miguel said although the first presidential debate had no “winner,” it made one thing clear to him.

"McCain is the past, and Obama is the future,” he said. “You see the past, and it's no good."

That sentiment undoubtedly will influence Miguel’s vote on Nov. 4 because he said he considers change to be a top priority. While uncertainty about the financial crisis overshadows other issues, Miguel is looking to the next president for new ideas and stronger leadership. 

Miguel was drawn to the debate between McCain and Obama due to the wisdom of sitting down and talking with foreign leaders such as President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Miguel said that sort of approach will be necessary if anything is going to change. For a long time, the Bush administration wouldn't sit down and talk with foreign leaders, and nothing happened, he said. McCain clearly opposed that idea during the debate, while Obama seemed more open to it.

Overall, Miguel thought Obama sounded like the better candidate on foreign policy, even though he recognizes the Democratic candidate lacks McCain’s extensive experience.

"Obama's better on this point because he's the change, the future, but I know he needs more experience," he said.

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