ROBERT MacNEIL: Now some reaction from ordinary voters to last night's event. We picked two kinds, older Americans and younger. We start with the elderly. Correspondent Elizabeth Brackett watched the debate at the Bensonville Home Society Retirement Center in Bensonville, Illinois, just outside Chicago.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The senior citizens here followed the debate intently as Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan met for the first face-to-face encounter of the campaign. Most in this normally Republican Chicago suburb favored Ronald Reagan when the debate began. That did not change when the debate ended, though the perception of Walter Mondale did change.
EVELYN LUND: I thought he came across much better than I had anticipated. I thought that Ronald Reagan would just mow him down, and I don't feel he did.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But on the issue of vital importance to the seniors here, Social Security, Walter Mondale's attack on Reagan's policies did not score many points.
Vice Pres. MONDALE: The President's budget sought to cut Social Security by 25%. It's not an opinion, it's a fact.
Pres. REAGAN: The only 25% cut that I know of was accompanying that huge 1977 tax increase.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: While Mr. Mondale had repeatedly tried to make the point that under the Reagan administration, Social Security would be endangered. Does anybody believe that?
CARL MEYER: President Reagan gave a much better explanation of Social Security than Mondale did. Both the Democrats and Republicans said Social Security was going broke and something had to be done, and he went ahead and did it.
Pres. REAGAN: They scare millions of senior citizens who are totally dependent on Social Security, have no place else to turn, and they have to live and go to bed at night thinking, "Is this true, is someone going to take our check away from us and leave us destitute?"
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: How many of you go to sleep afraid that your Social Security checks may be cut? Anybody? [silence] Mr. Mondale continually challenged President Reagan to give his plan for reducing the deficit. Do you think the President gave a plan that you can understand for reducing the deficit?
CAROLYN HENDRICK: No. And I don't think anybody could. I think Reagan just skirted around it, because I don't think anyone of 'em can by without raising taxes. I don't care who's president.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What do you think the President was trying to say about whether or not he needed to raise taxes to resolve the deficit issue?
PAULA CAIN: I think he truly does not want to raise taxes, but he has to leave that little loophole there to say, well, the times and conditions may warrant a tax increase.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The seniors were surprised at this response from Ronald Reagan.
Pres. REAGAN: The connection that's been made again between the deficit and the interest rates -- there is no connection between them.
RUTH PEARCE: I was really surprised, because I can't see how he can get around it.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What did that say to you about his understanding of the subject?
Ms. PEARCE: Well, I think he was -- I don't think he was thinking.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: When Walter Mondale came into the debate, most of the polls were showing that one of his biggest problems was that he did not project leadership. How do you think Mondale comes out on the leadership question after the debate?
Ms. CAIN: Walter Mondale came across to me a little better than I had ever thought he was or would be, but I still think Reagan has the better leadership.
MARGARET KEHOE: When you see Mondale on the screen, usually he's more belligerent, and instead tonight he was quite calm about the whole thing and took time out to be nice to the President.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Did Ronald Reagan have the magic tonight that everyone says he has?
Ms. KEHOE: No, he didn't have that.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What did the debate tell you tonight about the age of the two candidates?
LILLIAN MEYER: Well, it just brought it out very forcibly the younger man and the older man, and I never thought about Reagan being old until he was right next to the younger man.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Who do you think won the debate tonight?
Ms. MEYER: Reagan seemed to give me more confidence, although I was really surprised that Mondale came through the way he did.
Ms. KEHOE: I think that Mondale will have won more by the debate than will have Reagan. And the reason is Mondale had absolutely nothing to lose.
Ms. PEARCE: Well, I really think Mondale won the debate tonight. I think he did a good job, and I really do think he knows what he's talking about.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: More than you thought before?
Ms. PEARCE: Yes. More than I thought before.
ROBERT MacNEIL: We've heard the reactions of some elderly Americans. Last night we also sampled the views of some young people. In Austin, Texas, former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan brought together a dozen graduate students at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Before the debate, eight of the students called themselves Mondale backers, two were for Reagan, and the remaining two were undecided. But the debate didn't change any minds.It reinforced some opinions.
Prof. BARBARA JORDAN, former Texas Congresswoman: A real question is whether you feel Mondale filled in any of that 18-percentage-point gap as a result of the debate tonight? What do you think, Mary?
MARY KRAGIE: I'd have to give an edge to Mondale. I think maybe he did draw in a few more people that weren't aware of his speaking abilities and his knowledge about the issues.
TOM MARKGRAF: I think Mondale did very well tonight, considering his record on television before. It's not his best medium. But I don't think he garnered the knockout that he needed.
RANDY FRITZ: Reagan did not seem to be at all in vintage form. He stumbled, he was halting, he stopped dead in his tracks several times as if he was losing his train of thought.
SUSAN KELLEY: I was very disappointed by the fact that the people, the candidates skirted the issues and were throwing in comments about things like the Olympics that didn't really address the questions the journalists were asking. So I would have to say it was a draw.
TIM BONCOSKEY: I tend also to agree with you. I don't think this debate hurt the President at all, contrary to some other people's opinions in the room.
Prof. JORDAN: Did it help Mondale?
Mr. BONCOSKEY: I don't think so.
Prof. JORDAN: Imagery and fluff. That seems to be what was paramount on the minds of these two candidates for the presidency, one the incumbent and one the challenger. Imagery and fluff. What do you think, do we want imagery and fluff or do we want people discussing the issues and dealing with us like intelligent people?
TRIPP FINLEY: What we have today when they started talking specifics, they talked back some statistics, just statistics. That's not what we want. We want outlines, plans, a concise thought of the future. And we didn't get it.
JOHN HARKEY: The plan for the future is the thing. Tripp, that I really missed. Like for instance when they discussed the plan for the middle Americans and the tax problem. I heard both candidates discuss it. I'm still in the dark, almost, as to which way they're going to go.
CARLOS CONTRERAS: The thing that Mondale did is he looked at what is working for the President, and he said to himself, "Well, you know, the people out there are really concerned about how a president looks" -- presidents look presidential, and he was trying to do the same thing. And I think he came across pretty well as a president, as looking as a president.
CHARLES PATTON: But how can for months you criticize President Reagan for doing that, and then you stoop to that level?
Mr. FINLEY: The major mistake he made was that he was presenting this image of this presidential image. He wasn't the Walter Mondale that can attack, and he had shots open left and right to go at the President, pursue that, pursue the interest rates, tell him what -- tell the American people what that means. He's 18 points behind; he has to make some points.
Prof. JORDAN: He was trying so hard to be presidential, he was almost wooden. And I think -- do you agree with that?
Mr. HARKEY: Yes, I do. I believe, especially in the beginning, when Mondale first appeared, I thought he was extremely rigid. I thought to myself, here he is again, we're going to be subjected to, you know, a dull, very dull type individual who's going to, you know, very systematic, very logical and set out the steps. However, then as the debate progressed, you saw him move into this framework where he just gave the kind of big generalities.
Prof. JORDAN: Do you think anyone changed your mind as the result of this debate? What do you think?
Ms. KELLEY: I'm still undecided.
Prof. JORDAN: You were undecided before the debate and you're undecided after the debate. What will it take, Susan?
Ms. KELLEY: It's going to take me walking into that voting booth and just finally making that arbitrary decision.
Mr. FINLEY: No one is really happy with the two candidates tonight.
Mr. HARKEY: I'm distraught in voting for, you know, Mondale or for Reagan, because I really do believe on the issues I'm going to have to say that Mondale won, but I believe that Reagan won in the fact that he held his own, and he's going to, you know, be triumphant in the end. I think --
Mr. MARKGRAF: You believe that Mondale won the battle, but Reagan is going to win the war.
Mr. HARKEY: Right. Exactly.
Mr. MARKGRAF: I believe that too.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Here's how those 12 graduate students lined up at the end. Seven said Mondale was the debate winner, and five, including the two avowed Reagan supporters, said they thought it was a draw. Now both camps are anxiously waiting to see if the millions of viewers who watched had the same reaction.
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