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Voters: Debate May Have Solidified Instead of Swaying Views

October 7, 1996

CHEHALIS, Wash. (AP) _ Bob Dole may have stuttered and sometimes rambled, but that didn’t matter to Bob Nix, a farmer and staunch Republican.

What’s important, Nix said, is that Dole showed strength and confidence in his debate Sunday night with President Clinton _ qualities needed if he’s to pull from behind in the polls.

``He’s notoriously not a good speaker,″ Nix said. ``It doesn’t mean he doesn’t get his message across, because I think he does. Tonight, it looks like Dole is tough. He’s an old man, but he speaks with wisdom _ that’s the impression he’s giving.″

What impressions did Dole and Clinton give in their first election debate? Interviews with a handful of voters across the nation suggested the two men solidified already-held impressions, but changed few minds.

Nix, 47, raises hay and cattle on a 440-acre farm in southwestern Washington and is active in local Republican politics. During the debate, he cheered on Dole and criticized Clinton. Dole was folksy and used humor to his advantage, Nix said, while Clinton seemed smug.

Across the country in Norwood, Mass., Jimmy McGuire was similarly unswayed.

``I was going toward Clinton prior to the debate and I’m leaning the same way after the debate,″ said McGuire, 43, a blue-collar worker with Boston Edison Co.

``I thought Clinton came across as very presidential,″ McGuire said. ``Dole’s a very honest person. He’s a veteran. (But) I don’t feel he turned the election around at all.″

Dole’s performance relieved Rebecca Lyon of Pikeville, Ky.

``I was scared he might not speak as well as he did tonight,″ said Lyon, 46, a former teacher who runs a coffee shop. ``I thought he did a very, very good job. ... I was real impressed with the argument when they talked about education.″

She and her husband send their 14-year-old son to a private school, and she believes Dole’s support of school vouchers is the way to improve the nation’s educational system.

But some viewers looking for a clearer political vision from either candidate expressed disappointment.

Jose Caragol, 65, a longtime Republican who supported Clinton in 1992, said he heard nothing that would woo him back to the GOP column.

``I feel more comfortable with Dole now, but he did not present another plan of where he wants to take the government,″ said Caragol, an interpreter in the predominantly Hispanic city of Hialeah, Fla.

If anything, Dole may have alienated some potential supporters, said Kit Groseth of Tempe, Ariz. ``I just don’t think he had the polish,″ said Groseth, 39, a computer analyst. ``I’m a Republican, but I don’t feel Dole is a very good nominee for the party.″

In Chicago, Debra Williams said she was turned off by Dole during the Republican convention and saw nothing Sunday to change her impression. ``I just felt he was not sincere in what he was saying,″ the 39-year-old speech pathologist said. ``I think he was trying to cover up for what he really would do if he was to become president.″``

At least Williams was watching.

At the 3rd St. Diner in Richmond, Va., one of the few establishments where the television was tuned to the debate, the candidates didn’t capture the interest of Robert Dicks, a 25-year-old waiter.

``I wouldn’t vote for either one of them,″ Dicks said. ``I’d vote for Ross Perot, if he had a chance.″

Dicks gave the debate 10 minutes _ enough to watch the opening statements _ then headed off to the jukebox with a handful of singles.


EDITOR’S NOTE _ Evan Perez in Miami, Allen Breed in Pikeville, Ky., George Esper in Boston, Walter Berry in Phoenix and Sharon Cohen in Chicago contributed to this report.

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