5 voters identify high, low points

Times Staff Writers

Five undecided voters from around the country watched the debate at the request of The Times. They offer their thoughts on how the two candidates fared and what impressed them most.

Jennifer Imbach-Schmitt

Imbach-Schmitt, 43, is a budget analyst for a university in Baltimore. She is a registered Republican and was undecided but leaning toward McCain, before Wednesday’s debate.

References to ‘Joe’ called a low point

General impression: Imbach-Schmitt said McCain’s performance was his best and his most aggressive. “I thought he was very matter-of-fact and addressed the points more clearly,” she said. She added, however, that McCain did not sound as polished as his Democratic rival. “McCain doesn’t speak as eloquently as Obama,” she said.

Best moment: McCain’s quip that if Obama wanted to run against President Bush, he should have run four years ago.

Worst moment: The use of “Joe” by both candidates as a way of speaking to the average American. “Honestly, I don’t know Joe,” said Imbach-Schmitt. “So, it almost seemed a little fictitious.”


Who was more persuasive? “I feel pretty strongly about the economic policies that McCain has presented. . . . I’m more solidly behind McCain now,” she said.


Looking toward the future, not the past

Kay Sullivan

Sullivan, 70, is a home nursing assistant from Pacolet, S.C. Before Wednesday’s debate, she said was unsure whom she would support.

General impression: “McCain seemed to attack Obama rather than answer the questions that I wanted to hear,” Sullivan said. “Obama answered a little more directly what I wanted to hear about education, healthcare -- what’s going to help me, the average Joe.”

Best moment: Sullivan liked hearing Obama talk about strengthening parents’ involvement in their children’s education. “Turn off that TV. Take away those video games. Sit down with them. Read them a book,” she said. “That’s what we’ve got to do.”

Worst moment: Sullivan disliked McCain’s efforts to bring up William Ayers, the 1960s radical whom Obama came to know later in life. “That was, what, 20 years ago. That’s in the past. Let it go. . . . I wanted some answers, what are you going to do.”

Who was more persuasive? “I’m kind of leaning more toward Obama,” she said.

Attack on pork-barrel spending wins praise

Shirley Gorringe

Gorringe, 75, is a retiree from Riverton, Utah. Before the debate, she was leaning toward McCain but was open to switching.

General impression: Gorringe said both candidates performed well. She particularly liked hearing Obama and McCain talk about expanding healthcare and generating more energy from domestic sources. “Both of them seemed to see the need to take advantage of energy that is available,” she said.

Best moment: Gorringe liked hearing McCain attack pork-barrel spending. “On an important bill, I really don’t think they should be able to add all these things that have nothing to do with it,” she said.

Worst moment: Gorringe was unhappy to hear Obama talk about raising teacher salaries as a way to improve education. “I know a lot of teachers, and they make a good living.”

Who was more persuasive? Gorringe said she and her husband are more likely to back McCain. “He seemed more experienced,” she said.


‘I think they were both honest this time’

Nora Haubris

Haubris, 63, is a retired service technician from Spicer, Minn. Although she is a registered Republican, she was leaning toward Obama before the debate.

General impression: Haubris thought that Obama came across better than McCain, who she said looked “nervous.” Overall, she said, this debate was the strongest of the three. “I think they were both honest this time,” she said. “I think they really wanted to get their points across on issues such as the deficit, energy and healthcare.”

Best moment: The overall format. Of all three presidential debates, Haubris said, this format -- the candidates seated next to each other at a table -- allowed for the best dialogue between McCain and Obama.

Worst moment: The Roe vs. Wade discussion. Haubris, who supports abortion rights, said she was disappointed with McCain’s response and the fact that the topic was brought up at all. “I don’t think that was something that ever should have been discussed,” she said. “It was not something that was relevant to the current [economic] crisis.”

Who was more persuasive? “I have been leaning toward Obama for a long time, and now I’m probably leaning a little bit more toward him,” she said.


Speaking skills and sincerity are cited

Wally Brown

Brown, 62, is a substitute teacher from Bethany Beach, Del.

He is a registered Republican and had not yet picked a candidate to support, but he was leaning toward McCain.

General impression: Brown thought that Obama came across better as a speaker but that McCain sounded more sincere.

High point: The energy discussion. Brown said he thought that on this issue, McCain was “more on point” than Obama.

“I think [McCain] might have scared Americans when he said ‘nuclear,’ but he had a good point about the Navy ships using it safely,” Brown said.

Low point: He did not think Obama answered McCain’s question about William Ayres as well as he could have.

“Obama didn’t go far enough,” Brown said. “He didn’t expand, to my way of thinking, with enough detail about his relationships.”

Who was more persuasive? The debate “has not changed my mind,” said Brown. “I was leaning toward McCain going in, and nothing has changed.”