JEFFREY BROWN: Next, two takes on last night’s presidential matchup.
We start with Ray Suarez, who traveled to a Southern battleground state to gauge reaction there.
RAY SUAREZ: We watched with a cross-section of Florida voters, Karlos Colon, a 30-year-old naturalized citizen and first-time voter who is leaning toward voting for Obama, 49-year-old Nancy Riordan, who’s unemployed and planning to vote for Romney.
Retired schoolteacher 65-year-old Suzanne Kidd, is an Obama supporter. Twenty-year-old Chastity Pelham, a student at the University of Central Florida, is still undecided; 28-year-old Michael Weinbaum, a self-described social conservative, is also undecided. And Charlie Adkins, a 56-year-old real estate manager who is voting for Romney.
We met in downtown Orlando, in the heart of one of the most hotly contested regions of one of the most hotly contested states.
Welcome to you all. Thanks for joining us both to watch and to discuss what happened tonight.
I want to know if anybody’s opinion of either candidate was changed by watching them debate each other for 90 minutes. Did anybody see either of the two men in a different way?
MICHAEL WEINBAUM, Florida voter: I think Gov. Romney, especially by opening with a story of how — it was either him or his wife had met someone who was struggling to find a job, and had been in one job, didn’t work, and it happened multiple times, that was — I don’t know if I have watched enough of him on the stump, but that was the kind of thing I was expecting him to say.
That was a softer side. He did seem like a little more softer, and a little more compassionate than I had expected him to.
RAY SUAREZ: Suzanne?
SUZANNE KIDD, Florida voter: I was going to say that I have had the opportunity to listen to the president’s speeches in person for a number of times recently when he’s been visiting Florida.
And I saw nothing inconsistent in what he said tonight vs. what I have heard him say in person at each of those speeches. I find him extremely consistent. He doesn’t move around necessarily in his positions.
I didn’t see that with Gov. Romney. He was very much against every aspect of the Affordable Care Act at one time, and now, when he sees how popular the aspects of preexisting conditions and no cap on benefits, he’s suddenly jumping on board with that. So I thought — saw that as another example of his changing his message to fit what he thinks is his audience.
RAY SUAREZ: A lot of you before we got together said you wanted to hear specifics during tonight’s program. Did you hear what you needed to hear on the issue that makes you, as a voter, respond, the thing that you have been most worried about?
NANCY RIORDAN, Florida voter: I’m here for my kids and my parents, with the economy the way it is, and I’m worried for my father, who’s a veteran, and his care.
And I’m worried about the debt for my kids and future grandkids. And that bothers me, and nothing got answered. When is the spending going to stop and when is the money going to stop being printed? And let’s fix everyone. We’re not doing it.
SUZANNE KIDD: For the last three or four years, this president has been blocked every time he was tried to put forth a jobs bill.
MAN: That is absolutely untrue.
NANCY RIORDAN: Yes, I don’t agree.
SUZANNE KIDD: And that is very upsetting to me, because there are people in this country who could be working today if there had been that cooperation across the parties.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Suzanne, toward the end of tonight’s program, we got specifically to that point when Jim Lehrer asked both them, pointed out that there had been a lot of contention on Capitol Hill, a lot of gridlock, a lot of things that didn’t pass, how would you deal with it? Both men got to answer. Were either of them convincing for you?
SUZANNE KIDD: Governor Romney mentioned that if he were to be elected, that one of the first things he would do would be to have meetings with the Democratic leadership.
The president did that when he first came into office in 2009. He reached across the table, I can’t imagine how many times, even to the point where the progressive base of the Democratic Party was upset with him.
RAY SUAREZ: OK.
Anybody have their concerns responded to?
CHARLIE ADKINS, Florida voter: I didn’t hear what I need to hear about jobs. And, actually, I think that’s where the — where the conversation should have started.
That is the number one interest of — of generally everyone in the United States, or the majority of the people in the United States. And to start with taxes, just, you know, my eyes glazed over. And — and they went on ad nauseum.
And, really, I felt like — talking about their program, maybe talking about each other’s program. I kind of felt that Obama spent a lot of time talking about Romney’s tax program, and instead of talking about his own. He certainly doesn’t want to talk about jobs.
MICHAEL WEINBAUM: I think that nobody really mentioned either — while we’re on jobs, I think that’s an important issue going on, that not enough people have them.
But the — to turn to government for the answer, government has been cutting jobs. The government, especially state and local governments, continue to — continue to cut jobs. And I think Obama, he mentioned, well, let’s hire more teachers, and that — that would certainly alleviate it.
But I think a lot of people don’t expect government to necessarily solve the jobs problem, but it would be nice if government wasn’t the jobs problem.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, I’m glad you brought that up, because one subject that Jim Lehrer did introduce, which is kind of tough to talk about in that forum, even here, is the role of government.
There were both men were talking in a very — highly contentious way and also in some aspects agreeing about government having a role in the day-to-day lives of Americans. Did that help? Did that clarify anything?
MICHAEL WEINBAUM: For me, it helped soften Romney.
I have quite a few friends I would categorize as very conservative to libertarian. And, sometimes, I kind of see Romney through that lens. And I don’t agree with everything they say.
So, to hear it right from the horse’s mouth that he does believe in a role of government helping you day to day, maybe not to the extent Obama does, that was helpful.
KARLOS COLON, Florida voter: I think that, you know, if we look at government in the — in the eyes of history, there have been very important roles that government has played in changing many various things that are very important to all of us today, whether it be civil rights, whether it be, you know, workplace safety, you know, how long we work every week.
These kinds of things are all things that were implemented from the top down. And nobody here is going to say that the 40-hour work week was a bad idea. Nobody’s going to say that. That — that, you know, people of color can now vote, nobody’s going to say that.
It just — were they very, very popular things when they came out? No, they were not. Voting right — the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act were very, very vilified in many parts of the country. But the idea that Obamacare is not the answer, it probably isn’t, but something has to be done about this problem. And if we don’t do anything, we’re just going to keep ballooning this thing.
NANCY RIORDAN: Obamacare scares me. I don’t want the government knowing my personal issues or my health care.
I don’t want them to tell me that I can’t go to a — my own doctor. And, right now, my family physician has a sign in her window that says “No Obamacare.”
RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead, Chastity.
CHASTITY PELHAM, Florida voter: But I think, at the end of the day, government is there, like they said, to kind of protect us. I’m not saying that it should take over completely, no, because we are democracy. We do have free rein. We — we are the deciding factor in our community or in our nation.
But they should step in and like — what President Obama said that I do like and I agree with is that they should set the framework in how it should be done and what needs to be taken care of.
RAY SUAREZ: Was this worthwhile as an exercise? Was it worthwhile for six American voters to sit down and watch this thing? Are you going to watch the rest of them along the way?
RAY SUAREZ: So you’re gluttons for punishment.
RAY SUAREZ: Thank you all for joining me. And thanks for watching with me. And it was a very interesting evening. Thank you very much.