LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
We talked to voters in Virginia this week in Henrico County, a tossup county in a swing state. On state maps, Henrico County seems to be draped over north Richmond like a shawl. It's a critical region for both parties. President Barack Obama was there in mid-July. He carried Virginia last time and wants to hold on. Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were in Henrico County in the last couple of weeks.
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WERTHEIMER: We met two groups of people, in different parts of the county. First, the News Group in the Pavilion at CrossRidge. That's a discussion group that meets twice a month. CrossRidge is a gated active adult community in Glen Allen, Virginia. More than a dozen people came, all white, mostly retired. One of the first questions we asked was how they feel about Paul Ryan. Rod Sterling is a rock-solid Republican, retired from New Jersey and he's pleased with Ryan.
ROD STERLING: Almost what we've been waiting for. He's clean living. He has American viewpoints. If there's any scandal associated with him, it hasn't come up yet, and I doubt very much that it will.
WERTHEIMER: Others were not so pleased. Janet Rogers has lived more than 50 years in the area, working in a law office, selling cars at CarMax. She thinks Ryan may not matter much at all.
JANET ROGERS: I kind of feel like Ryan is a kid. He's younger than my child. I see him as an evolving young man. And we have to all remember that nominating, or close to nominating, a vice president is just kind of a blip. When we look back in the large political picture, a lot of us can't even remember who some of these vice presidents were in our lifetimes.
WERTHEIMER: Sarah Telawney was a hospital administrator in northern Virginia before she retired. She sees Paul Ryan as a catalyst for a conversation.
SARAH TELAWNEY: It's a conversation that needs to be had. He had some bold ideas - strange ones that need to be put forward, and people need to debate them; strange as far as I'm concerned. And I think with him in the campaign, perhaps this conversation will be had, and we will be the beneficiary.
WERTHEIMER: As we talked, it became clear that one big topic of that conversation would be Medicare. Most of these people use it; it works for them. Rob Steubner was in personnel for a supermarket chain. He says he generally votes on national security issues but not this time.
ROB STEUBNER: The thing that scares me is something has to be done about Medicare. If I had to make a decision based on one issue, it would be the way these two candidates and the likelihood of one of them being successful in doing something about Medicare.
WERTHEIMER: Steubner remembers Romney's days in Massachusetts and said in strong terms that he cannot be trusted on Medicare. Almost everyone in the room voted for President Obama in 2008, and almost everyone was disappointed. So, will they switch, this time? Several agree with Laura May on both candidates. She spent her working life in southern Maryland with a malpractice insurance company. And like others, she thinks Republicans in Congress are partly to blame.
LAURA MAY: I guess I would, hoped that Obama would be more adept at handling that political opposition. I guess I hadn't realized how inexperienced or relatively inexperienced he was in politics. And so I'm a little disappointed that he hasn't gotten better at handling that opposition.
WERTHEIMER: We're looking here at Mitt Romney who was the governor of a state. He obviously has had some experience not only with, you know, with governing but with opposition, because the state is essentially a Democratic state. So, why doesn't that send you into the Romney camp?
MAY: Because I, I think Mitt Romney is, was a good governor of Massachusetts. What I don't like is that he's now trying to go away from his more moderate stance. I don't like that he is bowing to the very, very conservative Tea Party Republicans. I think if he were still a moderate, I might have to think about voting for him.
WERTHEIMER: One of the CrossRidge group observed that they live in a bubble; prosperous, fairly safe from economic shifts. On the other side of the county, we went to Needle Arts Night at the Fairfield Area Library to talk to a group of women who don't feel that way at all. They are black and white, mostly single; some knit, some crochet.
CHRISTINE RUDERSON: I've been coming quite a while.
WERTHEIMER: Christine Ruderson works for the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Health care insurance is her issue. She's concerned that Medicare, as well as benefits in President Obama's healthcare act, might change.
RUDERSON: I want to see what the end of the story is going to be, because that's important so that people are able to plan their strategy. You know, what do I do next in life? What else can I purchase? You need to know what you're able to have, what's being offered to you so that you can make an intelligent plan.
WERTHEIMER: These women agree that President Obama got off to a slow start and did not do as much as they had hoped, but they too think Republicans in Congress share responsibility. Keturah Spencer works as a waitress in a bowling alley. She feels her grip on the middle class may be slipping and she wonders what Mitt Romney thinks of people in her position.
KETURAH SPENCER: What does he consider the middle class? I mean, Obama's been fairly clear on that line of you know, $250,000 a year or less. I want to hear what Mitt Romney's minimum of middle class is. Because for me, if he says he wants to help the middle class, well, who is the middle class to him? Because I might not be middle class to him.
WERTHEIMER: Julia Ganzie is a retired postal clerk. She says she thinks Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don't understand that people struggle. She says flatly that she doesn't like Romney.
JULIA GANZIE: I feel he's out of touch. He would really harm middle-class people. The things he believe in, or the things that he is for is not what I believe in, and he would hurt me or harm people that I know. You know, he might do OK in business but this is, we're talking president.
WERTHEIMER: These women voted for President Obama last time and probably will again, hoping he can do better in a second term. So, two groups of voters in Henrico County, Virginia. We'll have more conversations with voters as the election comes closer.
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WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News.
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