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Many voters who declare they haven't yet made up their minds say the debates will be pivotal in helping them decide between Barack Obama and John McCain. NPR's David Schaper watched last night's debate with a group of undecided voters in Indiana, a state that some polls say may now be in play.
DAVID SCHAPER: Democrats running for president usually fare poorly in the Hoosier state. In fact, they rarely waste time campaigning here. A Democrat has won Indiana only four times in the last century, says Indianapolis Star political reporter Mary Beth Schneider.
MARY BETH SCHNEIDER: The last time a Democrat carried Indiana was Lyndon Johnson. It took a national landslide to tip Indiana in the Democrat's favor. Since then, it really hasn't been even very close.
SCHAPER: Until this year. Several recent polls, including one in the Star last week, put McCain and Obama in a virtual dead heat here. So NPR and the Indianapolis Star invited a few of the voters who said they were still undecided to watch this first presidential debate together. Neil White, a 41-year-old disabled former restaurant worker felt frustration at the answers to the financial bailout questions.
NEIL WHITE: They really didn't answer it. They just kept saying that we shouldn't have got there to begin with, but then they didn't really give a definite - they don't give you a clear answer.
SCHAPER: White, who was leaning toward McCain, did like the Republican's call to freeze some government spending to help pay for the bailout, while 56-year-old John Ramsey of Anderson, Indiana, appreciated Obama's response.
JOHN RAMSEY: One thing that Obama said that I did like was protecting the taxpayers and tracking the money and making sure there's oversight.
SCHAPER: Ramsey came in leaning toward Obama, and says he found McCain's response to the financial crisis meandering, bringing up things like offshore drilling, which he feels doesn't have anything to do with the financial crisis. But Ramsey does like McCain's stand against wasteful spending.
RAMSEY: I know he does have a great record for not being a pork barrel spending freak like some of the other people in the Senate or the House. And you know, things like that just drive me nuts. That's totally irresponsible spending.
SCHAPER: John Hoover, a 56-year old former air traffic controller from Avon, Indiana, who now trains controllers, didn't like either candidate's response to the financial crisis.
JOHN HOOVER: I was disappointed with both of them because they both had this chance to say, now wait a minute, the bailout doesn't exist yet, and we have other options to the bailout.
SCHAPER: Hoover's wife Colleen, a medical billing clerk, says she began watching the debate completely undecided and honestly not really wanting to be there. But she came away saying that if she had to vote today...
COLLEEN HOOVER: I think I'd vote for Obama.
SCHAPER: Colleen Hoover says she favors Obama's world view.
HOOVER: I think McCain - I think he's - I thought he was intelligent. I think he knew a lot about foreign affairs. I just think he wants war a little more than I want war.
SCHAPER: Iraq is a top issue to Jim Ramsey. He says McCain's experience and understanding of foreign affairs impresses him. But Ramsey is still leaning toward Obama because of the Democrat's response to the lessons of the war in Iraq.
RAMSEY: One of the things I have to agree on is I think we really should have gotten bin Laden when we had the chance. I think that was a key misstep in this whole war on terror.
SCHAPER: John Hoover says he's still undecided, but that Obama did better than he expected.
HOOVER: I think in the closing statements Obama probably came out ahead, because to me he hit a gut-level response when he said wanted to restore America's standing in the world, because I think it has really suffered the last six years.
SCHAPER: These undecided voters say they'll be googling for more information on the issues raised in last night's debate, and they're looking forward to the next two presidential debates and next week's vice presidential debate, too, before deciding who they'll vote for in November. David Schaper, NPR News in Indianapolis.
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