President Bush's performance in the last debate and in the closing weeks of the campaign was impressive enough to persuade the majority of a panel of eight voters to buck a national trend and vote to give Mr. Bush another chance.
Two out of three undecided members of the panel, which watched the presidential debates last month at the invitation of The Sun, decided in the last weeks that they would vote for Mr. Bush.
Two other Bush supporters voted for the president. One Clinton supporter said she voted for him. Three panel members could not be reached.
"The last debate helped, and I just feel we're not at a point in our country where we can take risks," said Mike Houchins, 23, of Howard County. Mr. Houchins had come into the debates an undecided voter, but had said he was leaning toward Mr. Bush after his spirited performance in the last debate.
Candy Martin of Baltimore County, another previously undecided voter, said she went with Mr. Bush after she did some homework after the debates.
"I didn't get all the answers I needed from [the debates], so I had to look and read more," said Ms. Martin, 36, who had been leaning toward Mr. Clinton after the debates. "I sat down for two nights and just read about things I didn't understand."
What she found was that she liked many of Mr. Bush's policies, especially his plan for education. And the charge that Mr. Clinton waffled on the issues also bothered her.
"He just never really answered the questions straightforward enough for me," she said.
But Gwen Laws, 64, of Baltimore, said she was for Mr. Clinton all the way -- before, during and after the debates.
"I think we need a younger, stronger and more versatile guy than Bush. I think his ideas are a little antiquated," Ms. Law said. "I think Clinton-Gore are going to do it. I hope I'm not wrong."
Russ Bonchu Jr., a Harford County resident who supported Mr. Bush before the debates, said he voted for the president because "I think he's the man that has led us well for four years and he's the man I trust."
Mr. Bonchu, 46, acknowledged that Mr. Bush's performance in the first two debates was not impressive. "The first two were a little shaky, but the last one confirmed my decision," he said.
Chris Hulett, a Baltimore County resident who also supported Mr. Bush, said the character issue weighed heavily in her decision to vote for the president's re-election.
"I just don't trust Clinton with the country's fate," Ms. Hulett, 19, said. "I don't trust him at all. I don't trust him as far as I can throw him, which isn't very far."
Most panel members agreed that although the campaign was characterized by some negative attacks, it was on the whole fairly clean.
The panel was selected for The Sun by House Market Research Inc. of Potomac. Four members are male; four are female. They range in age from 19 to 71, and come from a variety of backgrounds -- from medical assistant to sales clerk, from homemaker to retiree. Seven are white. One is black.