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Undecided Voters Weigh in on President Obama’s Convention Speech

September 7, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
After the end of the 2012 RNC, Ray Suarez talked to six previously undecided Virginians for reaction to that convention. Margaret Warner gathers the same group together again to debrief on President Obama's speech at the 2012 DNC and asks whether any of them are any closer to a choice.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we come back now to those political party conventions and gauge how some voters reacted.

In his acceptance speech last night, President Obama defended his record and said it would take time to carry out his agenda.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place, and I’m asking you to choose that future.


BARACK OBAMA: I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country, goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit, real achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation.

That’s what we can do in the next four years, and that is why I am running for a second term as president of the United States.


JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the president was, of course, speaking both to loyal Democrats in the hall and to those voters around the country who haven’t yet made up their minds, especially those in battleground states.

One of those states is Virginia, which the latest election polls show remains a tossup. Traditionally red, it turned blue, voting for President Obama in 2008 with a big boost from Northern Virginians.

Margaret Warner sat down with six undecided voters there after watching the president’s address.

MARGARET WARNER: This same group sat down with Ray Suarez last week to assess Governor Romney’s speech and said afterwards they remained undecided.

Tom Wilson, 46, is an independent who voted for President Obama in 2008. He says he’s most concerned about the economy and what he calls conservative value issues.

Ben Harris, a 21-year-old college student, is casting his first vote. He supported John McCain last time and is especially concerned with education.

Beth Hersom, 30, is a registered Democrat who considers herself a swing voter. She voted for the president previously, but she opposes abortion, and didn’t like the way his health care reform law dealt with contraception.

Annabel Foery, 64, voted Republican in the last two elections, but she said he isn’t sure she trusts Governor Romney and wants to see more cooperation on both sides to get things done.

Adam Salazar, a 26-year-old grad student, is a Republican who voted for President Obama last time. He believes both parties have failed on immigration policy.

And Martha Paschal, 51, is a lifelong Democrat who says she is undecided for the first time. She’s reluctant to vote for President Obama again, in part because of what she sees as his failure to stand up to Wall Street.

You all remained undecided this time last week. Did you hear anything from President Obama last night that helped you make up your mind?

MARTHA PASCHAL, undecided voter: I didn’t feel as though there was much substance that was given in his speech.

I thought there was a lot of emotion and, you know, rallying the base, but not much in the way of policy that was fleshed out.

THOMAS WILSON, undecided voter: I was disappointed that he didn’t have more plans for the next four years, specific legislation, or other proposals.

ANNABEL FOERY, undecided voter: I was happy to see that President Obama got some emotion going. It was — became lively. It engaged the people. It engaged me. I appreciated the way he talked about that we have a responsibility, we, the people, that it’s up to us, it’s our voice, our vote.

BETH HERSOM, undecided voter: It didn’t change my opinion. It didn’t offer anything I didn’t really know before. So I enjoyed it. And that was fun, but — but, you know, we knew that he was charismatic.

THOMAS WILSON: It was, but I remember back to 2008, and I was struck by how sober his presentation was.


THOMAS WILSON: This time, just so sober, and I would have liked a lot more optimism, a lot more energy about moving forward.

ADAM SALAZAR, undecided voter: But at the same time, I thought it was good to highlight some of the things that he has done over the last four years, things that a lot of people might have forgotten, so, for example, making sure that we are no longer in long, endless wars.

I come from a family where my father has spent the entire — my entire adult life in either Iraq or Afghanistan. And so that was something that I look back and I remember four years ago what I was thinking about that issue.

BEN HARRIS, undecided voter: It wasn’t really what I was looking for. There was a lot of — a lot of promises, specifically with like student loans, education in general, energy production, all sorts of things. He said, we’re going to do this. But then he doesn’t say how.

MARGARET WARNER: How did the rest of you feel about — were you looking for something that wasn’t there?

ANNABEL FOERY: He did is not address the issue of trying to get consensus within the House. I mean, whatever he wants to put forward, he has to make it happen.

We’re going to be faced with this divided House, which has been happening over the last few years.

THOMAS WILSON: He criticized the Republicans’ proposals to voucherize Medicare, as he called it. I felt like he needed an idea on Medicare. He needed an idea on reducing our debt. And I didn’t hear it.

BETH HERSOM: When Obama was campaigning, he said to Catholics, to everybody, but to Catholics, I will protect your conscience. There will be strong conscience protections in this bill.I do think that I was lied to. And so I would like to see that not just addressed, but resolved.

I sort of feel like, you know, my choice right now for president, I have to pick between, you know, a schoolyard bully telling me to shut up and get in line and sort of a comic book villain, you know?


MARGARET WARNER: Who is which?


BETH HERSOM: Well, I mean, I think that pro-life Democrats, Catholic Democrats, we have been told, shut up and get in line. And that’s not OK.

MARGARET WARNER: From those of you who say you were disappointed, were there things you liked?

BEN HARRIS: I liked sort of where he seemed — he seemed to be thinking in a very broad scope. He had a big picture.

ANNABEL FOERY: He made a commitment to alternative energy, and he was very strong on that, and I was glad about that.

ADAM SALAZAR: I was actually quite stunned that there’s not — that he didn’t actually mention how he’s going to be able to help fix the economy these next four years. I have no idea what he’s going to actually do. And it’s very hard to make a decision based on a lot of fluff.

MARTHA PASCHAL: I appreciate the fact that he had a floor that he put under the economy, because September 2008 was a really bad month. You had the Dow just crashing. Am I pleased with what he’s done? You know, he gave Wall Street a pass.

MARGARET WARNER: What did you make of his — one of his major points that he made right at the beginning and again at the end that — quote — “Ours is a harder path, but it will get us to a better place.”

BEN HARRIS: We obviously need to get to a better place, but, you know, just saying a better place, everybody has a different better place.

ANNABEL FOERY: Not much mention of budget deficit, of the overall deficit either. That was just not an issue, it seems, anymore.

MARGARET WARNER: Did he give you confidence that in a second term, with this new perhaps soberness or realization, that he could really make things happen?

THOMAS WILSON: I wasn’t convinced that he really had it in him to — to take his presidency to a level where he could cause Congress to do the things that he wants them to do.

BETH HERSOM: For me, it’s still an open question. How is he going to work with people who — who have made it their explicit goal to make sure that he’s not in office? If he comes to be in office again, I don’t know. He doesn’t tell me what the road is or even the end point. He doesn’t — I don’t know what the road is, and I don’t know where the road is going. Well, then…

MARTHA PASCHAL: Sounds like you’re lost.


MARGARET WARNER: So are you all — do you all remain undecided?

MARTHA PASCHAL: I’m not. They have been asking, are you better off now than you were four years ago, to which I would answer in the affirmative.

ANNABEL FOERY: I’m going to be looking at my own values and then also coupled with that I think that the Republicans perhaps have a better chance of getting something done, wrong or right.

ADAM SALAZAR: I’m still undecided. I think that, if anything, what I took away from both of these speeches is giving a good, hard, serious look at the Libertarian Party.

BEN HARRIS: I’m definitely still undecided. I guess I was looking for an evolution of the 2008 Barack Obama. I felt like this was just a beaten and bruised 2008 Barack Obama.

BETH HERSOM: So, the question in my mind is, can I vote for Obama? And — and that is still a question for me. If I had to vote tomorrow, I would probably vote for my mom.

THOMAS WILSON: In 2008, my wife and I, we knocked on doors for President Obama. She may be knocking on doors in 2012, but I won’t be walking those doors with her. I’m definitely not at that place.

MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying you remain undecided?

THOMAS WILSON: I’m married.


THOMAS WILSON: And I just make big decisions in my life in conjunction with discussions with my wife. And so I’m afraid at this point, I have to say that I’m still undecided.

MARGARET WARNER: All this to say, in pursuit of undecided voters, the two candidates still have more persuading to do.