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Biden vs. Palin: St. Louisans weigh in

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 30, 2008 - Perhaps, it's because the race remains so tightly contested -- with polls in recent weeks showing narrow leads by first the Republicans and then the Democrats. Perhaps, it's because of a continuing curiosity over surprise Republican vice presidential choice Sarah Palin.

Or perhaps, it's because the political drama will be playing out in their own back yard.

Whatever the reason, most voters interviewed by the Beacon this week said they plan to pay unusually close attention to Thursday night's vice presidential debate between Palin and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden.

Some even said a strong performance by one of the candidates could influence their votes come November.

Here, then, is a sampling of reactions from the street in the hours leading up to the debate:

The voter: Kelly Davis, 23, of Richmond Heights, bank teller.

She supports McCain-Palin (strongly).

Why? "My whole family is Republican. We support the Republican Party. The economy is the big issue, and I believe that McCain and Palin can do the best job with the economy." Obama, she said, "is making too many promises." She also says that she is adopted, and her anti-abortion stance more closely reflects the views of McCain and Palin. She believes Palin is a strong candidate and would be in a good position to take over the presidency if McCain is unable to complete his term.

Why she is interested in the debate? Actually, she is not certain she will watch the debate

Could the debate influence her vote? No. "This has been going on for so long," she said of the campaign. Anything that happens from here to the end is not likely to change many people's votes.

The voter: Jerome Cowen, 30, of Overland, a union laborer.

He supports Barack Obama-Joe Biden (very strongly).

Why? "Look at the economy, look at everything. I can't think of one reason to vote Republican. Things are not good. You hear a lot about (former President Bill) Clinton -- he cheated on his wife, he lied to the country -- but things were a lot better then." Still, Cowen says he remains pessimistic about Obama and Biden's chances. "I know a lot of white people who just won't vote for him because he's black."

Why he is interested in the debate: "I kind of think (Palin) is a joke. It was pretty funny when she was on TV the other day talking about foreign affairs. I think it will be good for a laugh."

Could the debate influence his vote? No.

The voter: Kenneth Garrett, 21, of Hazelwood, a student at Florissant Valley Community College and a custodian.

He supports neither party.

Why? He sees McCain as straightforward, more direct -- something he likes in a presidential candidate. Obama, on the other hand, sometimes appears "a little shaky" on issues and can be less than forthright in his answers. At the same time, though, Garrett says Obama seems more interested in doing something to help solve the country's economic problems. He says he is concerned that too many of his fellow African-American voters support Obama and Biden simply because Obama is black. "I tell them all the time, 'man, you're just voting for him because you want to see the first black president.' What if he gets in there and messes up, and then we are all going to look stupid."

Why he is interested in the debate? The position of the vice president, he says, is becoming increasingly important, and Americans have to be comfortable with their choice for the job because he or she could become president.

Could the debate influence his vote? Yes. "The U.S. dollar isn't strong any more and I want to listen to them say how they will change that." He says he has been impressed with Palin, whom he describes as a "strong," young woman with administrative experience.

The voter: Darrel Miller, 52, of Webster Groves, an engineer.

He supports Obama-Biden (moderately to strongly).

Why? He says he is very concerned about the American economy and simply does not believe that McCain and Palin have the ability to improve it significantly.

Why he is interested in the debate: "I like political theater. I expect Palin to say some stupid things, and I expect Biden to do the same." Until recently, he said, he did not pay a lot of attention to the vice presidential candidates. "Until Dick Cheney," he said. "He's scary. He has way too much influence over the president."

Could the debate influence his vote? No. "I believe you could have the vote today and it wouldn't be any different than it would be 42 days from now. . . except maybe my house value will go down in the meantime."

The voter: Mary Murphy, 49, of St. Ann, an office administrator with a real estate business and owner of her own realty company.

She supports Obama-Biden (slightly).

Why? She believes the Democratic ticket may offer the better chance of improving a slumping economy. She owns several properties and initially intended to improve them and "flip" them to make money, but the housing market is so poor that selling them is not a possibility -- at least not now.

Why she is interested in the debate? She is hoping that Biden has a strong showing in the debate to "cement" her choice for the Democratic ticket. She says she has some reservations about Obama's foreign relations experience and hopes that Biden can ease those concerns.

Could the debate influence her vote? Yes. If Palin should come across as a stronger vice presidential candidate, it could conceivably make a difference in her vote in November.

The voter: Kelly Vinson, 45, of Affton, an assistant underwriter for a commercial insurance company.

She supports McCain-Palin (very slightly).

Why? She supports McCain by a very slim margin, largely because she believes he is more experienced and will take a harder stand on terrorism than Obama. At the same time, though, she says, she has worries about Palin's lack of experience, particularly on the national scene. She also is troubled by McCain and Palin's ability to deal with the nation's economic woes. "Eventually, this is going to get down to Main Street and start affecting a lot of people."

Why she is interested in the debate? She is simply curious to watch the performances of the two candidates. And she is always looking to find something that will clearly separate one set of candidates from another.

Could the debate influence her vote? Yes. "The presidential debate didn't help me much; both of the candidates had good points."

The voter: Jim Dulle, 56, of Creve Coeur, an engineer.

He supports Obama-Biden (moderately to strongly).

Why? He said he does not believe "all this maverick stuff (McCain) has been talking about" and feels McCain's policies will too strongly reflect the past eight years of the Bush administration. He also was disappointed with McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate. "He did it more, not for the good of the country, but for the good of his campaign. Twenty years ago, all the vice president did was attend funerals. But now, they are much more involved. You need to be looking at somebody with experience. I just don't think she can run the country."

Why he is interested in the debate: He is looking for "leadership qualities" in the candidates. "Both are going to say some things they probably will regret the next day, but to me, Biden would be the lesser of two evils."

Could the debate influence his vote? No. "Even if she does a great job, it won't change my opinion of John McCain."

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