Debate Watchers In Colo. Unimpressed

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A group of undecided voters in Colorado watched Wednesday's presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. Their responses to the event are not good news for McCain.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Now, to the suburbs of Denver and to a handful of undecided voters who tuned in to the third and final presidential debate last night hoping it would help them make up their minds. Polls suggest Colorado was currently leaning toward Obama. Four years ago, George Bush won the state by a slim margin. Here's NPR's Ina Jaffe.

INA JAFFE: If John McCain is going to hang on to Colorado, the undecided voters who were at this debate watch party are exactly the ones he has to win. They were Republicans and independents and one libertarian, mostly white and mostly older. They waited for the final showdown in front of the big flat screen TV at Jackie and Bobs Sermillan's (ph) house in a bucolic hamlet in Arapahoe County near Denver. Mary Jo Osma (ph) is a retired civil servant and lifelong Republican.

Ms. MARY JO OSMA: I'm undecided because I like some of Obama's policies, I - especially Obama's policy on diplomacy and talking to other nations.

JAFFE: Even if their nation's unfriendly to the United States. John McCain, however, spoke to another issue close to her heart.

Ms. OSMA: I like his right to life policy. The pro-choice policy of Obama is something that bothers me.

JAFFE: Fellow Republican Dennis Reynolds, a former mayor of the town of Littleton, was worried about McCain's temperament.

Former Mayor DENNIS REYNOLDS (Litttleton, Colorado): He's kind of a hot head. And I think he's been jumping all over the map on this economy thing lately. He rushes off, canceling his campaign, rushes back to Washington, then doesn't do anything. I mean, it doesn't make sense.

JAFFE: Not long ago, Republicans like Reynolds and Osma dominated here in Arapahoe County, but now, the voter roles are almost evenly divided between Republicans, independents and Democrats. Independent Susan Docher (ph) said she recently left the Republican Party to send a message.

Ms. SUSAN DOCHER: They needed to be more moderate and less on the extreme.

JAFFE: The Arapahoe County League of Women Voters provided cookies, coffee, and note paper, but otherwise left everyone to the task at hand.

Unidentified Man: When we welcome Barack Obama and John McCain.

(Sound bite of applause)

JAFFE: As newsman Bob Schieffer moderated the 90-minute forum, everyone in the room remained quiet, riveted, no talking back to the TV. After two debates without coming to a decision, the third time was the charm for host Bob Sermillan, a long-time Republican.

Mr. BOB SERMILLAN: And I was hoping that McCain would come out and tell me that his tax plan was so much better than anybody else's, and I could vote my pocket book, and I would be very happy.

JAFFE: But Sermillan found Obama's plan more credible.

Mr. SERMILLAN: Obama came out and said, we are going to all have to make some sacrifices. And there's something that was very sincere about his approach and very practical and sensible and reasonable.

JAFFE: In fact, out of eight people here, seven said they were now either going to vote for Obama or they were leaning that way. Susan Docher said Obama didn't seem as liberal as she'd expected. JAFFE: Another independent, engineering contractor Cheng Lo (ph), said McCain's attacks on Obama were a turnoff.

Mr. CHENG LO: You see McCain fall back to those Karl Rove foul tactics, where you just keep on hammering the same point, whether it'd be true or not. And I don't think that worked for him.

JAFFE: Dennis Reynolds agreed. He admired Obama's cool.

Mr. REYNOLDS: Obama showed his ability, you know, stand up and respond to everything that came his way.

JAFFE: But Reynolds said he could still change his mind. There are nearly three weeks till election day. Plenty of time, he said, for any politician to blow it. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Denver.

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