Candidates questioned by undecided voters in second debate

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry spoke directly to voters about Iraq, health care, jobs, abortion, and taxes in the second presidential debate held Friday at Washington University in St. Louis.

The format of the second debate was a town hall setting. The Gallup Organization selected 140 undecided voters to comprise the audience, half of which were leaning towards Bush and half were leaning towards Kerry. Each audience member submitted two questions, one for each presidential candidate. The moderator, Charles Gibson, co-anchor of “Good Morning America,” selected the questions that would be asked. Neither candidate was aware of the questions beforehand.

“I liked the second debate better than the first because each person got to move around and you saw more of their personality and the audience interaction made it more interesting,” said Meghan Lally, a senior communication major at George Washington University.

Friday’s debate was much more closely contended than the first debate in which John Kerry won handedly, according to polls. Both campaigns declared their respective candidate the winner of the second debate but most polls declared it a draw.

“In my professional opinion, that was a tie,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Bush was enormously better than the first time, but Kerry also did very well.”

The first question of the night went to Kerry and addressed his reputation of being “wishy-washy”.

“The president didn’t find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he’s really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception. And the result is that you’ve been bombarded with advertisements suggesting that I’ve changed a position on this or that or the other,” Kerry said. “I have a plan to put people back to work. That’s not wishy-washy.”

“I can see why people think that he changes position quite often, because he does,” Bush responded. “I don’t see how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, if you change your mind because of politics.”

One audience member confronted Bush about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“I wasn’t happy when we found out there wasn’t weapons,” said Bush. “But Saddam Hussein was a unique threat. And the world is better off without him in power.”

“The world is more dangerous today. The world is more dangerous today because the president didn’t make the right judgments,” Kerry responded.

Taxes were a popular issue on the domestic front during the debate.

Kerry pledged to give tax cut to those earning under $200,000 a year. For those earning more than $200,000 a year, tax levels would return to that when Bill Clinton was president, he said.

“Looking around here, at this group here, I suspect there are only three people here who are going to be affected: The president, me, and, Charlie, I’m sorry, you too,” Kerry said.

Bush questioned Kerry’s promise.

“He says he’s going to be a fiscal conservative, all of a sudden,” Bush said. “It’s just not credible. You cannot believe it.”

“I watch the debates because I want to see how well each person can debate and where they stand on certain issues,” said Lally. “I pretty much had my mind made up before the debates even started but they have reinforced my views.”

The third and final presidential debate will be held at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., on Wednesday. Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent, and moderator of Face the Nation will be the moderator and the questions will focus on economic and domestic issues.

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