Voters Group Reflects Hurdles Facing Candidates

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and former rival Hillary Clinton will campaign Friday in Unity, N.H. Democrats hope that Clinton's supporters will rally to Obama's side. But one voter's focus group reflects the challenge facing the party.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And tomorrow, in Unity, New Hampshire, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will campaign together for the first time. There wasn't much unity among a group of swing voters who sat down to talk politics this week. NPR's Mara Liasson listened in.

MARA LIASSON: Twelve voters, all white - none of them had voted for either Barack Obama or John McCain in the primaries. But seven of them had voted for Hillary Clinton. The question now: Will those voters throw their support to Obama? Kirby Hickey says he will.

Mr. KIRBY HICKEY: I'm a Democrat. So I would like to see the face of unity put on the party. More importantly, because of the way I feel about this administration, we got to put a Democrat in the White House. And I don't have a problem with Obama, either.

LIASSON: Dennis Betts also voted for Clinton, but he does have problems with Obama.

Mr. DENNIS BETTS: I don't like the fact that Obama's wife made a statement that she's finally proud to be an American.

LIASSON: He's also heard things that make him question Obama's patriotism.

Mr. BETTS: You're going to be a president of this country and you're not going to put your hand on your heart and show that you're dedicated? I have a problem with that.

LIASSON: But even Betts says he'll back Obama because both Bill and Hillary Clinton are now supporting him. Charles Fasano(ph), however, isn't budging. He says there's nothing Hillary Clinton can do to make him vote for Obama.

Mr. CHARLES FASANO: I'm a Democrat and thinking more about McCain just because I don't trust Osama, I mean, Obama. It's only one letter difference. His middle name is Hussein. He comes from a Muslim family. It's not right. I can't see it. I just fear for America if he comes in.

LIASSON: Fasano was the only one of the seven Clinton voters in this group who was dead set against Obama. McCain fares better than Obama with these voters on questions of character and patriotism. Almost everyone here says they would rather carpool with him. But there are trouble signs for McCain, too. Janelle Mater(ph) is a lifelong Republican, a vote McCain should be able to count on but can't.

Ms. JANELLE MATER: For most of my life, my decisions have been made based on morals and family values. And now, all of a sudden, our country is just, like, turned upside down with all these economic issues. It's really making me second guess voting for those ideals.

LIASSON: This year, for the first time, Janelle may base her vote not on family values but on the economy, and that's the reason she's not sure about McCain.

Ms. MATER: He admitted that he needed to be more educated there. And I just thought, oh, my goodness, you shouldn't learn about that in the White House. Like, you should know about that stuff going in.

LIASSON: The role that race will play in November is hard to measure, but it's always there, right beneath the surface. To Janelle, race doesn't and shouldn't matter.

Ms. MATER: Especially in the younger generation of voters. We don't see things this black or white. I have a really hard time thinking that the majority of the country can still draw those kinds of lines.

LIASSON: Carrie Matheson is an independent who voted for President Bush in 2004. She is certain the world still does draw those kinds of lines.

Ms. CARRIE MATHESON: As much as we'd like to say this is a good world, the real world doesn't do well with change. And I think somebody would be out for him, and I would fear for his life. I would hope that he would have a lot of bodyguards that would help him.

Mr. FASANO: If Obama gets in, there's going to be a big black agenda, and it's going to turn whites against blacks. And we're going to have more of a chance of riots.

LIASSON: That was Charles Fasano. Nobody else at the table agreed with his statement about an Obama presidency, including Susan Campbell.

Ms. SUSAN CAMPBELL: There's been really no evidence of a black agenda. He started his campaign very clearly saying he was not going to make race an issue. And it wasn't until the Jeremiah Wright flap that he even addressed it. But do I think that there will be riots? Probably not. I want to believe that we are a better country than that.

LIASSON: These voters may not agree about McCain or Obama, but they do have one complaint in common: They're mad at the media. They think there's been way too much coverage of the campaign and not enough information. Here's Janelle Mater.

Ms. MATER: I still don't know very much about either platform, like what John McCain is actually going to do if he becomes president. And the same thing for Barack Obama. I just know vote for change. I don't know what change. I know there has been a lot of media coverage, but I'm still, like, I'm waiting for the meat of it.

LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR News.

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