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Bush and Kerry to Answer Voters' Questions During Debate - 2004-10-08

President Bush and his opponent, Democratic Senator John Kerry, are in the Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri preparing for their second debate of this year's presidential election season.

The shift in public opinion polls after the last presidential debate toward Senator Kerry has many political analysts speculating on what are sometimes called "soft voters." These are people who may tell a pollster they favor a certain candidate, but who could easily change their mind as the campaign moves forward.

Even in some of the states that were thought to be safely in one camp or the other, pollsters have noticed significant shifts over the past week. The debate here on the campus of Washington University could result in another such shift.

Some voters base their decision on one particular issue and stick to it. This year, the war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism dominate the thinking of voters like Monica, who favors President Bush.

"I do not want them fighting over here," she said. "I think we need to take care of it over there and bring our [soldiers] home safely. I am very proud of the people over there and I am very thankful to the people there, but I do not want them fighting here. I want my daughter and my kids and my family and everybody else safe."

But her friend Jackie is not yet committed because she sees issues of importance that neither candidate has addressed to her satisfaction.

"I have not completely made up my mind yet exactly what I am going to do because there are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed other than just the war and I would like to see some of those issues come up in the debate," she said.

She described an issue that is important her. "The main thing is they keep hollering about health care for everybody," she said. "This is a very important issue, especially for me because I am heading toward retirement. But I see elderly citizens, that there are other issues for them when you give them a one-percent increase in their Social Security check, but when I go to the store I find that my dollar is not buying the same loaf of bread and that same gallon of milk as it did yesterday or the week before."

Many voters watching the debate will be looking for how each candidate deals with such issues as health care, funding Social Security, creating jobs and reducing the deficit as well as keeping the country safe.

For some voters, politics has become far too nasty. Larry, who takes tourists around downtown St. Louis in a horse-drawn carriage, thinks candidates need to focus more on what they offer and less on criticizing their opponent.

"It is just a scary thing looking at the Democrats and Republicans fighting against each other all the time," she said. "I heard somebody say on the radio if they heard someone that said what they thought about all the issues and did not say anything about the other guy, that would be the guy to vote for. It is not right to say this guy is a bad guy or doing this wrong or whatever. Hopefully, it will all work out in the end and we will get the right person in there."

It is ordinary citizens like these who will be putting forth the questions at this debate. The questions will come from some of more than 100 voters who are either undecided or soft in their choice, selected by The Gallup organization, known for its public opinion polling.

Both Republican President Bush and Democratic challenger, Senator Kerry will be able to respond to the questions and address the people in seats arranged in a half circle in front of them. The town hall-style debate will be moderated by Charles Gibson of the ABC television network.