Many in crowd liked the debate, but they want more

October 16, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

RICHMOND, Va. -- If last night's presidential debate was supposed to help people make up their minds, it didn't work for Marisa Hall, 25, one of an audience of voters who asked questions of the candidates.

The mechanical drafter asked one of the most pointed questions -- How does the national "debt" affect you personally? -- but the candidates' answers didn't help her make up her mind, she said.

Like many in the audience, she enjoyed Ross Perot's folksy answers.

"Ross Perot has a sense of humor that appeals to common people," she said. "It doesn't mean I'm going to vote for him."

The 200 or so citizens from the Richmond area were selected by a polling firm because they were undecided. But many acknowledged afterward that they had come into the debate leaning toward a particular candidate -- and most said the debate had not changed their minds.

Joyce Gilgore, 55, a housewife, voted for George Bush in 1988 and "probably" will vote for him next month.

As for the Texas independent, "I'm impressed with Mr. Perot, and I feel he really speaks to the issues and says some very important things, but I'm not sure how he gets things done, not having the experience or a [political] party behind him," she said, adding, "I wish we had time for more questions."

The citizen audience, which included a mix of men and women of all ages, but few minorities, came well dressed for their night in the television lights. They also came prepared with questions -- some had written them down -- but only 13 got to ask one.

Dewey Reynolds, after listening to Mr. Bush say he wanted authority to veto parts of bills, said he wished he could have asked the president for more specifics on what he would veto.

The 53-year-old real estate broker said the debate pushed him more in the direction of Bill Clinton. "I really haven't found that much to change my mind."

Although he voted for Mr. Bush in 1988, Mr. Reynolds said, "We just haven't been hearing from Bush what he would do."

Patti Billett was one of those who said the debate did influence her. Wavering between Mr. Perot and Mr. Clinton, she said, "I think I'm leaning more toward Mr. Clinton."

"I feel like Perot is a man of action," said the homemaker, who is 33, "but I'm not sure he has a specific plan."

Kate Devine, 19, also wasn't sure before the debate whether she'd back Mr. Clinton or Mr. Perot. But the debate nudged her toward Mr. Perot.

"I take him more seriously now, I think," she said.

Another first-time voter, 18-year-old Christy Williams, a student, termed the evening "an excellent experience" that addressed the issues "for the most part."

"Each candidate, I think, had something good to say, but not on one topic," she said. Agreeing with a "lot of the things" Mr. Clinton "stands for," she probably will vote for him.

But for Ms. Williams' friend, Jean Childress, the debate only pushed her more in Mr. Bush's direction. Terming the debate "great," she said she thinks the president, for whom she voted in 1988, has "learned from his mistakes."

Sue Lipscomb, 40, an office manager, also voted for Mr. Bush and is "leaning toward" him again. But she'd like to hear more.

"I still don't think we've gotten enough information. I don't think we had enough variety of questions. One of my questions is, having a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress and who's going to hold the checkbook?"

Even so, she said, "It was a good debate, and I enjoyed being here."

Jerry Schepker, a retired furniture factory representative, spoke for many in the audience when he said he thought all three candidates were "more or less equal" in their performance. He said he planned to watch the final debate and the half-hour televised programs Mr. Perot is sponsoring.

The excitement didn't end for Mr. Schepker and the other voters when the debate ended. They stayed around to try to meet the candidates and a few were plucked from obscurity to appear, albeit briefly, on post-debate television shows.

Even if it didn't make up their minds about whom to support Nov. 3, the debate was something to remember.

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