Friday, October 08, 2004

NEW MEXICAN VOTERS PANEL: THE DEBATES SO FAR

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Oct. 8, 2004


The overwhelming consensus of a panel of Santa Fe area voters following the presidential election -- including most of those leaning toward President Bush -- is that Bush lost the first debate last week.

However neither the first presidential debate between Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry, nor this week’s debate between the vice presidential candidates, appeared to have changed any panel member’s mind about who to back, members said at their meeting Thursday.

“Kerry did a number on him,” said Bobby Gonzales, a retired sheriff’s deputy. “I’m still supporting Bush, but Kerry just took him behind the shed and spanked him.”

“Kerry did great,” said Dana Czoski, a substitute teacher who also is backing Bush. “Kerry gave a great performance, but that’s what it was a performance. I still think he is terribly na├»ve about these people,” she said, referring to terrorists.

The 12-member panel was selected by the New Mexican to give the average voter’s perspective on the presidential election. On Thursday, the second of four moderated meetings, the panel spent the first part of the meeting discussing the debate and other political news of the week.

Geary Radcliffe, a retired Los Alamos National Laboratory employee who is leaning toward Bush agreed that Kerry won the debate.

However, he said after watching the debate on television he read a transcript of the event he downloaded from the internet. Without seeing Bush’s facial expressions -- which were roundly criticized after the debate -- and hearing the coices of the candidates, the debate seemed more even, Radcliffe said.

But Kerry didn’t get all rave reviews from the panel. Daveen Masias, who said she is considering voting for independent Ralph Nader, said, “It was eye-opening to hear a potential president say `I will hunt down the terrorists and kill them.’ We’re in trouble as it is.”

But Masias said she was encouraged that Kerry brought up the fact that after the fall of Saddam Hussein last year, the only Iraqi government facility U.S. troops guarded was the Oil Ministry. “It is an oil war,” she said.

In the case of the vice presidential debate, the reactions fell along more predictable lines. Kerry supporters tended to say Sen. John Edwards won, while Bush backers proclaimed victory for Vice President Dick Cheney.

“Kerry and Edwards did me proud,” said Carmen Rodriguez, a community activist. “Both were very articulate.”

“I look at Cheney and his record and I found without doubt that he was very misleading,” said Paul Rainbird, a past president of Southwestern Association for Indian Arts . “I know that Edwards does not have a lot of experience as a political person, but he seemed very sincere.”

But Lori Montoya, a college student, said, “The debate showed me that Cheney could really be president. All Edwards did was look like a trial lawyer.”

“With all of Cheney’s years of experience, he just spanked Edwards,“ said Mike Yerby, a Qwest employee who is leaning toward Bush.

Some members said they were bothered that Edwards mentioned the fact that Cheney has a lesbian daughter.

Edwards, during a debate question concerning a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage, commended Cheney for standing by his daughter.

“I was really upset when Edwards brought up Cheney’s daughter’s sexuality,” Gonzales said.

But Dave Duran, a paralegal for the National Guard who is backing Kerry, said, “I like how it was brought up. (Gay rights) is an important issue.

Rodriguez agreed. “It’s not a big secret that Mary Cheney is a lesbian. She’s acknowledged it. Her father has acknowledged it. (Gay rights) is an issue that needs to be discussed.”

Several panel members on both sides of the political divide, said there seemed to be too much negativity in the debates.

“The in fighting gets old,” said Ken Barros, a Kerry supporter who works for county government. “They should be talking about how to make things better for the American people. Sometimes it’s like high school when they go back and forth and back and forth.”

“The vice presidential debate was particularly contentious,” Carrie Norris, a Santa Fe business owner and a Bush supporter said. “The first thing out of Edwards’ mouth was calling Cheney a liar. There was a lot of it coming from both sides.”

Further coverage of the New Mexican voter panel’s second meeting will be in Sunday’s paper.

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