Election 2008

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Last night's debate among the Republican presidential candidates took place n Florida, sponsored by CNN and YouTube, which provided some unusual questions. There was more heat than usual, too, starting with a half-hour argument over immigration.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer watched the debate with the Republicans in New Hampshire, where they'll be voting in less than six weeks.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: The people gathered at the home of David and Linda Matta(ph) in Bedford, New Hampshire are like a lot of other Granite State Republicans -not ready to decide. David Weidman(ph) is a psychiatric social worker for whom this debate was no help.

Mr. DAVID WEIDMAN (Psychiatric social worker): I maybe more undecided after watching this. I was leaning Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee. That may - they might both may have gone down a peg for me. And I think probably McCain went up a peg for me.

WERTHEIMER: These businesspeople are fiscal conservatives. David and Linda Matta own and manage a pizza restaurant in Bedford. Linda says she is still looking.

Ms. LINDA MATTA (Pizza Restaurant Owner): I was leaning towards Huckabee fairly strongly, but with an open mind. And like David said, I think McCain came on very strong today. And Duncan Hunter also impressed me. I have to say Mitt Romney is also in the running for me, too. So I still have to nail it down.

WERTHEIMER: Huckabee and McCain did best with our group, who was surprisingly quick to detach from the frontrunners. Alan Peterson(ph) is in the commercial window business.

Mr. ALAN PETERSON: I think one person that disappointed me, who I thought was always very eloquent and a very bright individual is Romney. And I think he stumbled quite a bit.

WERTHEIMER: One stumble, our group singled out. When Governor Romney was asked if waterboarding is torture, he said it wouldn't be appropriate to answer. And John McCain jumped in. David Danielson(ph) works with an engineering firm.

Mr. DAVID DANIELSON: Trying to argue with McCain about torture, you can't do that. You're going to lose. And he…

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible) preposition. He really is determined…

Mr. DANIELSON: …was determined to try to go after McCain, and it wasn't going to work.

WERTHEIMER: The tussle on immigration, which led off the evening, didn't impress our folks either. Floods of illegal immigrants - not a big issue here. We used to get French-Canadians down to pick apples, one said. And they were not sure about Rudy Giuliani's belligerence and his determination to have the last word. Not presidential, David Weidman thought.

Mr. WEIDMAN: I'm imagining a guy at a cabinet meeting or at a security briefing. And somebody says something - if somebody else says something and he's got to get the last word and he can't listen, I don't like that. I want somebody who can take advice from other intelligent people.

WERTHEIMER: Our businesspeople wanted more about the economy, about globalization, about energy. Linda Matta would have skipped the question on the bible to get one on health care.

Ms. MATTA: I hate to say this, I think people who are on the lower economic scale have better access to health care than some of the middle class. And I really think it needs to be addressed.

WERTHEIMER: So what to do? By now, you will have noticed that we had three guys named Dave in the room. They and Alan Peterson all talked when I asked, do you like your candidates?

Mr. WEIDMAN: I'm not overly excited for all the candidates. Why is that? And, I mean, consumer confidence index is down. It's the lowest it's been in two years, and it's still falling. The people are not trusting the government. We were talking earlier - the government's broken, okay? It's not going to get fixed by a senator who's a good old boy. But if I looked at that line up up there, I don't see anybody up there that's going to change that drastically or be able to get in there and break up how things are done.

Mr. DANIELSON: I'm not too impressed by the choices. But then, I looked on the other side, and I said, what about the Democrats? If I was voting a Democrat, I would be petrified of who I would select. You know, I have to go back to Biden and say, you know, this is man who was well-versed and everything, but he's one of the good old boys, okay?

Mr. WEIDMAN: If you're going to vote for change, if, if the vote of this vote becomes for change, who's going to be the best man?

Mr. PETERSON: I agree with my wife on this one. I think the guy who probably comes close to that is probably Obama. He probably has that charisma that's going to pull people forward on.

Mr. WEIDMAN: I'll take the contrary in view. I like the fact that people don't excite me all that much. I want a boring guy who'll go to work.

WERTHEIMER: But which one of the candidates in either party might fill that bill? David Weidman said he didn't have enough data to decide. And in our corner of Bedford, New Hampshire, no one else had a name to suggest.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.

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