Post-Debate Swing-State Snapshots

Potential voters at a Colorado playground, a football game in Ohio and a Home Depot in Virginia give their impressions of the first presidential debate.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, It's All Things Considered. I'm Andrea Seabrook. From a playground in Colorado to a college football game in Ohio, to a Home Depot in Virginia, everybody, it seems, is talking about last night's debate. We sent reporters out to three states that will be crucial in the November election, and they brought back these swing state snapshots.

ALLISON KEYES: I'm Allison Keyes in Northern Virginia at that bastion of commonality, a Home Depot. Many out shopping this morning watched the debate intently. Most didn't see a clear winner, and while none of them heard anything to change their minds, people like Earnest Gaskins (ph) were struck by the demeanor of the candidates.

Mr. EARNEST GASKINS: I am for Obama, but at the same token, I felt like some views that McCain had, he was very condescending.

Mr. CHRISTIAN PETRITICH: I thought Senator Obama would end up being the clear winner, but I thought McCain did very, very well.

KEYES : Christian Petritich(ph) was at Home Depot with his four-year-old son, Aden, and says he's a long time Republican who will likely vote that way in November. A key factor for him is McCain's bipartisan appeal.

Mr. PETRITICH: The Democrats tend to want to fight their own battle and say the Republicans aren't doing a good job, and it seemed like McCain is kind of trying to work with both parties to make things happen.

KEYES: Ben Stag (ph) and Cathy Hudson (ph) have a biker for McCain sticker on the back of their jeep. Stag says McCain has the experience, even if the economy is the Republican's weak suit.

Mr. BEN STAG: He needs to know the economy. He doesn't need to be an expert on it. It's like in my job. I have people that work for me, and they're much smarter than me. OK.

KEYES: Angela Clayton (ph) of Fairfax says there was absolutely a winner last night.

Ms. ANGELA CLAYTON: I would say Barack Obama.

KEYES: But Clayton worries that some voters seem to be choosing their candidate along racial lines, when people should be trying to put the person in the White House who will look out for the nation's best interest. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

KIRK SIEGLER: I'm Kirk Siegler at Washington Park in Denver where, under a bright blue sky, kids are scaling the jungle gym and soaring on the swings. Last night's debate was watched closely in this swing state, Colorado.

Mr. SCOTT VISTED: He goes right down to bed every night, right down...

SIEGLER: Scott Visted (ph), who works as financial adviser for Merrill Lynch, is pushing his daughter on the swings.

Mr. VISTED: I would generally say a draw. I think McCain showed his experience. I think Obama showed a little bit more personality.

SIEGLER: Visted and his wife, Valerie, planned to vote for McCain because of his foreign policy experience.

Ms. VALERIE VISTED: And I think that that was a highlight for me. I think it's really important that we do have a commander in chief who has dynamic international experience.

SIEGLER: Their minds were already made up before the debate, as was Dana McKovsky's(ph), who watched as her daughter had a go on sliding board.

Ms. DANA MCKOVSKY: Yeah, you know, eight years ago, I thought McCain was a pretty cool guy, but I really think that he has changed.

SIEGLER: Nearby, Kirney Daniel(ph) says she was put off by McCain's lack of eye contact with the camera or his opponent.

Ms. KIRNEY DANIEL: I thought that was very odd because I thought it was - Obama was good in that point, that he spoke to the audience when McCain didn't.

SIEGLER: Daniel is an independent in a state where independents outnumbered Democrats or Republicans. She says she's still undecided, even after watching last night's debate. For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

M.L. SCHULTZE: I'm M.L. Schultze at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio. If this were a clearer day, we'd literally be in the shadows of the pro football hall of fame. Many of those coming to the small college match up of Walsh and Quincy Universities already got their dose of football for the weekend with Friday night high school match ups that draw 10 even 15,000 fans.

That meant a lot of them weren't home watching the presidential debate, but Canton is also in a key swing county in a key swing state, and that makes the November 4th election a topic of interest for those who watched the debate, and those who didn't.

Ms. JENNIFER OLLBRACK : I was leaning Obama. I'm a teacher, and our National Education Association is really backing Barack Obama. I'm probably still leaning in that way as well, but I just think right now it's, you know, everything that's going on in our economy and with the stock market and the price of everything, I mean, it's just - it's scary, and I don't feel convinced that either one is going to be completely capable to handle all those situations.

Ms. HELEN SHAEFER: I've always been a Republican, so I'm just kind of on the fence.

SCHULTZE: There's no chance you won't vote at all, is there?

Ms. SHAEFER: Well, I had thought about that, and then I thought, I can't do that. I've always voted.

SCHULTZE: How many years is always? If that's not too impolite to ask?

Ms. SHAEFER: Well, I'm pretty old, so it's been a lot of years.

Ms. LINDA NAFF: It made me even feel more strongly about Obama.

SCHULTZE: Why?

Ms. LINDA NAF: I just, you know, I don't agree with the economic package that they've had the last few years, and I don't know - I just think he's the man, but we'll cancel each other out.

SCHULTZE: You are for McCain?

Mr. BOB NAFF: Yes.

SCHULTZE: Why?

Mr. BOB NAFF: Because I don't like Obama.

Ms. LINDA NAFF: And I do like him.

SCHULTZE: What do you like about him?

Ms. LINDA NAFF: I think he's a fresh face. I like what he has to say. Actually, I was Hillary, but now I'm Obama.

Mr. BOB NAFF: Well, Ron Paul should be running , but he's not running, so I'm voting for McCain.

SEABROOK: The voices of Linda and Bob Naff, Helen Shaefer (ph), and Jennifer Ollbrack (ph) brought to us by reporter M.L. Schultze of WKSU in Canton, Ohio.

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Obama, McCain Face Off Over Spending And War

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Patrons watch the first presidential debate at a bar called Top of The Hill in Washington, D.C.

Patrons watch the first presidential debate at a bar called Top of The Hill in Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 2008. Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Republican John McCain makes a point during the first presidential debate. David McNew/Getty Images hide caption

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John McCain

Republican John McCain makes a point during the first presidential debate.

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Democrat Barack Obama answers a question during the first presidential debate. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

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Barack Obama

Democrat Barack Obama answers a question during the first presidential debate.

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Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts (left) speaks with former Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi prior to the first presidential debate in Oxford, Miss. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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John Kerry and Trent Lott

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts (left) speaks with former Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi prior to the first presidential debate in Oxford, Miss.

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Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama skirmished Friday night over issues ranging from the nation's fiscal crisis to its foreign threats in their first nationally televised debate.

The two senators pressed their basic themes: Republican McCain stressed his experience, while Obama claimed that his was the broader vision. Obama tried to paint his rival as an extension of George W. Bush, while McCain sought to portray the Democrat as a tax-and-spend liberal.

Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS began the debate with the most immediate question on most voters' minds: where each candidate stood on the proposed $700 billion bailout for Wall Street. Both men agreed that Congress needs to take action, but neither committed to supporting specific parts of the plan.

McCain asserted that Obama had "the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate," while Obama tried to link McCain to what he said were "eight years of failed economic policies promoted by President Bush."

Lehrer followed by asking how each candidate, as president, would cope with the revenue lost to the bailout. Obama said that he would go slower but would not stop what he said were priorities: working toward energy independence, fixing the health care system and remaining competitive in education, science and technology.

McCain said that he would focus on cutting spending, and he accused Obama of being "a recent convert" in his opposition to big spending and budget earmarks. McCain promised that as president he would veto any pork barrel project, regardless of which lawmaker proposed it, declaring, "You will know their names, and I will make them famous."

This debate was supposed to be about foreign policy and national security, but it very nearly didn't happen, after McCain insisted that he wanted to postpone the match until lawmakers reached a deal on a rescue package for the financial markets. After prospects for a quick agreement slipped away, McCain said that he would take the stage with Obama at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

The foreign policy part of the debate began with questions about the candidates' signature disagreement: the war in Iraq. Obama, who opposed the war before he ran for Congress, asserted that McCain was repeatedly wrong about the war, insisting that the U.S. was victorious in the years when American strategy was failing.

McCain pointed to his own support for the "surge," the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq in 2007, saying that Obama had refused to acknowledge the success of the strategy carried out by Gen. David Petraeus. Obama countered, "John, you like to pretend the war began in 2007."

Obama has maintained consistently that the Bush administration's single-minded focus on the war in Iraq was a diversion that allowed al-Qaida and the Taliban to regroup in Pakistan. He tried to tie his rival to that strategy.

For his part, McCain sought to portray Obama as naive and inexperienced. He hit at him for having said that he would negotiate with Iranian leaders without preconditions. He said a presidential-level meeting with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would legitimize someone who has called Israel "a stinking corpse" and has said that the Jewish state should be wiped off the face of the Earth. Obama countered by saying that such talks would be undertaken with "preparations," not preconditions. He noted that a key McCain adviser, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, has advocated talks without preconditions.

The two candidates pursued their themes of experience versus vision in skirmishes over the conflict between Russia and Georgia and the question of North Korea's nuclear program.

Immediately after the fact, many analysts saw the candidates' first contest as a draw. Foreign policy was regarded by many as a strong suit for McCain, but Obama was able to hold his own with his familiar theme that the Bush administration had squandered military and foreign policy resources on the war in Iraq.

The two men are scheduled to face each other twice more. They'll meet next on Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., and again at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Oct. 15. Their vice presidential running mates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, will meet once, in a debate at Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 2.

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