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Voters React to Debate Performances

October 6, 2000

At Hal & Mal’s in Mississippi, no one had a harsh word for the two men who want to be vice president. They fancied both candidates.

It was Thursday night’s debate they found a little boring.

``I don’t much care about this one. I can’t say I don’t like the guys or anything. I like them both,″ said bartender Charley Abraham.

Herbert Hays Thompson liked them so much he thought both were campaigning for the wrong office.

``They should be running for president and the other guys vice president,″ said Thompson, 38, watching the only national televised confrontation between vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney, a Republican who served as defense secretary during the Gulf War, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut.

``Gore’s just got a good-looking face and a smart daddy,″ Thompson said, drinking a beer at the downtown Jackson brewery and restaurant. ``He and Bush are both running off their daddies’ names.″

Cory Wilson, a 30-year-old attorney, liked the way the candidates addressed voters.

``I don’t feel like either of these guys talked to me like a kindergartner,″ he said. He could not pick a winner. ``It was a draw _ they both did well.″

But college student Laphonza Butler had hoped the debate would help make up her mind about the Nov. 7 general election.

It didn’t.

``Neither one can sell me right now. Neither are dynamite,″ she said, fingering a rose tattoo on her right arm. ``Too many facts and figures, not enough feelings and passions.″

Liz Hall, 19, a sophomore at Belhaven College in Jackson, saw things in terms of personality.

``Cheney seems intimidating. He reminds me of a grandfather. Lieberman is kind of cute, sort of funny looking. He might appeal more to young people,″ she said.

Across the country, American voters spent 90 minutes watching two graying politicians chase a sometimes thankless job bound by confounding rules _ stand by your man, but not in his shadow. Always make the boss look good, but always be ready to take his place.

And the opinions of some of those who watched were equally at odds.

At a retirement center in the Democratic stronghold of Madison, Wis., viewers passed a bowl of pretzels before a big-screen TV near the state Capitol.

Between passes, they yelled at the television.

``Answer the question,″ hollered 83-year-old Harriet Shetler. The query was about the recently approved abortion pill, RU-486. The respondent was Cheney, whom Shelter felt was hemming and hawing.

Katherine Scharf, 87, thought abortion shouldn’t even be a campaign issue.

``I wish they’d get rid of that and leave it to the women,″ she said.

Shetler was also rankled by Cheney’s assertion that Social Security needs reforming.

``That’s what the Republicans are trying to do, scare people about Social Security,″ Shetler said. ``That’s the one thing that makes me mad.″

In Detroit, doctoral student Jenny Tatsak shot her arms in the air when moderator Bernard Shaw asked candidates what it would take to make women’s’ salaries equal to those of men.

``What about women getting paid 75 cents on the dollar?″ she asked.

``He didn’t answer the question. He talked around it,″ said Tatsak, sitting inside a chilly meeting room at Wayne State University.

But, she added, ``I don’t know that I liked the way Lieberman answered it either.″

And as the debate ended, Grace Aduroja, 19, voting in her first presidential general election, may have changed her mind. She started the evening as a Gore-Lieberman supporter.

``What’s this? Sparring match. I have to say Cheney’s done a pretty good job,″ she said.

Hundreds of miles west, on an Indian reservation in the foothills of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains, Linda Diaz watched with a cousin and her two teen-age daughters.

Her main concerns are education and Social Security.

Like most of the 320 tribal members, she and her cousin, tribal judge Edie Quintana, 40, vote Democratic.

And both like Lieberman.

``Because he is Jewish, he has the ability to be more understanding and compassionate with people of color,″ Quintana said. Of paramount concern to her is the environment.

``How stupid,″ she erupted when Cheney said he supported oil drilling in Alaska.

``If you’ve ever been to Alaska, and I have, it’s beautiful. Why destroy our last frontier?″

And in San Francisco, a group of gays and lesbians assembled in the home of Byron McQuarters, an investigator in the District Attorney’s office, didn’t expect that any issues important to them would be mentioned by either candidate.

So they were happy that moderator Shaw did.

The question concerned same-sex marriage, and McQuarters’s guests said neither Cheney nor Lieberman gave definitive answers.

``They sort of touched on it and then didn’t really get into it,″ said Gwen Craig, a 49-year-old administrator at the University of California, San Francisco.

Added Joe Woods, a college researcher, ``It’s kind of a hot potato. No one wants to deal with it.″


EDITOR’S NOTE _ This story was reported by Associated Press writers around the country, including Christine Hanley in San Francisco; Jenny Price in Madison, Wis.; Gina Holland in Jackson, Miss.; Alexandra R. Moses in Dearborn, Mich. and Heather Clark in Pojoaque Pueblo, N.M.

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