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Debate leaves undecided voters unimpressed

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Undecided voters
Undecided voters gathered in the UBS Forum at Minnesota Public Radio's headquarters in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

Time is running out for these voters. After a campaign that's dragged on for almost two years, they now have less than a month to make up their minds.

But James Masanz isn't worried.

"In school, how many people study for an exam four weeks early? I mean, I have lots of time. Two weeks will be plenty," Masanz said.

Neither is Linda Dworsky, who lives in St. Louis Park. But she is feeling pressure from her friends, most of whom are Democrats.

"And they're like how can you not be decided. How can you even think about voting for McCain when he has Sarah Palin on his ticket," Dworsky said.

Dworksy has been inching toward Obama over the course of the last three debates, but because she sees McCain as more experienced when it comes to national security, she's still undecided.

In fact all eight of the undecided voters at our party came out of last night's debate still undecided, and largely unmoved.

"I'm probably more unconvinced now than I was at any earlier period of time," Dell Erickson said.

Erickson is a good example. He's a retired money manager from Brooklyn Center, and what he's been craving is detailed policy proposals from the candidates.

But this debate, like the previous ones, have left him unsatisfied.

"So many of the statements, the phrases they said are just repetitions of what they said earlier. I keep looking for more depth, and I thought maybe this format would provide for more depth in the responses, but it wasn't meant to be," Erickson said. 

If you're one of those voters who's had your mind made up for months, it might be hard for you to relate to someone who hasn't.

But for this group of undecided voters, at least, it's not that they haven't been paying attention. It's not that they don't care about the future direction of the country. To the contrary, they care a lot, and they've following the campaign pretty closely. Neither candidate has sufficiently impressed them to win their vote.

James Masanz, from Rosemount, has been hoping the debates will help him choose, but so far, they haven't.

"I found it informative, but I didn't find it helpful in making my decision, because they both said things I like, and they both said things that bothered me," Masanz said.

And to be honest, it's easier for Masanz to remember the things that turned him off.

"I don't like McCain's health plan, and I was surprised by Obama's comment about going after bin Laden, even if he's in Pakistan," Masanz said.

Barack Obama said this:

"If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act."

To Masanz, that seems to conflict with Obama's emphasis on diplomacy and talking directly with the leaders of hostile countries like Iran and North Korea.

And there are some issues where Masanz strongly disagrees with both McCain and Obama. He doesn't like that both of them are promising tax cuts.

"I'm surprised that that's on the table as something to talk about. I would expect if we're truly serious about the war then there shouldn't be a tax break for anyone at this point."

Masanz voted for a third party candidate in the last presidential election, and he hasn't ruled out doing that again, if neither McCain nor Obama makes a persuasive case to him.

Jeremy Bierlien of Shakopee has also found himself drawn to third parties in the past. This year, he's planning to vote for Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race. 

For president he is trying to choose between McCain and Obama, but the debate didn't leave him closer to a decision.

"Outside of a few little bits here and there I didn't hear a lot of new fact that would push me in a direction for the other. Frankly, I found myself watching more for style and is there something going to come out of this that's gong to help me more personally understand the candidates," Bierlien

Bierlien didn't see a lot of surprises there, either. McCain and Obama both seemed the same to him as they have in other campaign appearances.

Ultimately for Bierlien, it might not be the debates at all that make up his mind. It will be a question of which issues seem most important to him on election day. If it's health care, he'd lean toward Obama.

"My mother was bounced from insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions, and health care almost bankrupt my parents. Had I not had decent health insurance and a decent job when my twins were born I would have had approximately half a million dollars worth of medical bills that I would have been under."

But like a number of our undecided voters Bierlien has doubts about Obama's national security credentials.

And Bierlien said with big news breaking nearly every day -- both foreign and domestic -- he doesn't mind taking his time.