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Gore, Bush Clash, Viewers Join In

October 18, 2000

For Richard Davison, the third presidential debate was not so much about what he heard, but what he didn’t hear.

``With Bush, he’s never flatly denied the fact that his tax cut will go mostly to wealthy people. He’s danced around it, but never denied it,″ said Davison, 80, watching the debate at a community forum at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

As for Al Gore, the vice president never explained how he would pay for his domestic proposals, Davison said.

``Gore is promising all these things to everybody,″ Davison said. ``If he came through on all of them, it would triple the national debt. They both promised much more than they can ever deliver.″

Across America, voters watched the feisty final debate between Bush and Gore, often adding their own exclamations to the political theater on television. Many seemed to have made up their minds already and saw the debate as a chance to fortify their opinions.

While the live audience in the debate hall at Washington University in St. Louis remained obediently quiet, elsewhere on campus no such civility ruled as the school’s debate team watched on television.

They scolded each candidate as if he could hear them:

``He’s not answering the question!″

``What’s he talking about?″

``Answer the question!″

Debate team member Mili Joseph, 19, an anthropology student, described herself as a staunch Gore supporter who was hoping Gore didn’t make her regret it. She winced at several of his answers.

Joseph said Bush had the upper hand during the debate. ``He has these little phrases, these little tag lines that people will remember. He’s making a connection. Gore just talks. He doesn’t have the punchlines.″

Still, Joseph said, she’s sticking with Gore.

``I respect him for standing up for his convictions. It comes across as catty, but his intentions are good.″

In South Jordan, Utah, Charles Kimmerle watched the debate at home, jotting down notes. He’s a Bush supporter who believes his candidate rolled over Gore in the debate.

``I’m proud of my guy,″ Kimmerle said after the debate. ``I like words like choice and accountability. I haven’t had any faith in Clinton and Gore for a long time.″

In Denver, Democrat Johnny McDonough thought Gore handled himself well.

``I am the first to admit he didn’t fare so well in the last debate,″ McDonough said. ``I think after this debate he proved he could answer questions thoroughly and that put George on the defensive for most of the debate.″

In Glen Ullin, N.D., a solidly Republican crowd watched the debate at Beers and Gears, a bar in the town of about 900 people.

``Gore said a lot of interesting things, but what’s his plan? How is he going to do it?″ farmer Jim Bechhold asked. He liked Bush’s promise to open up more export markets for U.S. farm products.

``They should never use food as a weapon,″ Bechhold said.

In Portland, Ore., Brooke Mannell watched the debate with irritation.

``I’ll give Gore credit for a few facts, but it’s been rhetoric,″ said Mannell, 26, a receptionist. ``He says, ‘I’ll promise I can and I will,’ and it’s the same thing presidents have been saying for years. I can’t trust anything they say.″

Mannell was undecided before the debate began and stayed that way afterward. She plans to vote only for local Oregon ballot initiatives on Election Day and leave the presidential contest blank.

``I’m not capable of being influenced at this point,″ she said.

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ This story was reported by Associated Press writers around the country, including Steven Du Bois in Portland, Ore.; Matt Gouras in Glen Ullin, N.D.; Wayne Parry in West Long Branch, N.J.; L. Anne Newell in South Jordan, Utah; and Joe Stange in St. Louis.

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