JIM LEHRER: And that brings us to focus segment number one tonight, the debate about the debate. Who won last night in Kansas City and why, and is it likely to change things between now and two weeks from tomorrow, Election Day? We offer a variety of answers, beginning with those of a group of elderly voters in Bensonville, Illinois. Correspondent Elizabeth Brackett spent the evening with them during the first debate, and she returned last night.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It is a group that leans toward President Reagan, but a group that was surprised and disturbed by the President's performance in the last debate. As residents in a retirement community, it is also a group that understands the problems that come with age. But most here felt, with this well-planned quip, the President responded to the age question well.
Pres. REAGAN: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.
RUTH PEARCE: I thought he handled that very nicely tonight, and I still do believe that that age difference, like he said, was experience that he has had. And I don't see where his age has anything to do with it.
EDNA DIEKRIDGE: I this day and age, look at the people that are active that are 80, 85 and 90 years old, and I don't agree with that they should retire at 70 or 75.
LILLIAN MEYER: It does worry me a little. Four years from now -- I'm lots older than he'll be then and you wonder, with the terrible stress of the country --
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Did you worry more or less about the issue of the President's age after this debate?
Ms. MEYER: No, I'm not any more worried. I thought Reagan handled himself very well.
BRACKETT: Do you worry less about it after this debate?
Ms. MEYER: Yes.
MARGARET KEHOE: Both appearance-wise and his arguments he was much improved. If you noticed his face was very relaxed and his appearance was quite good this time whereas Mondale's had slipped.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Edna, what did you think about Mondale's appearance this time?
Ms. DIEKRIDGE: He looked very tired. He had bags under his eyes. And I've watched him on TV previous times before and he never seemed as tired as he was tonight.
PAULA CAIN: And maybe that shows us something too, that he is vulnerable just as much as an older person would be.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The group felt both men made points on this exchange.
Pres. REAGAN: He has a record of weakness with regard to our national defense that is second to none.
Mr. MONDALE: I accept your commitment to peace, but I want you to accept my commitment to a strong national defense.
Ms. MEYER: Mondale came out very strong to verify everything. He emphasized that over and over. Reagan emphasized the same thing. He was just as strong as he was before.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Do you think the President was able to portray Mondale as weak on defense?
CAROLYN HENDRICKS: No. Not as far as I'm concerned, he didn't. I don't think the President's any smarter tonight than he was the last time I saw him.
WILLARD VINCENT: He failed to answer the questions that Mondale put to him about his responsibility in Lebanon.
KARL MEYER: Lebanon has been -- that's an obnoxious country through the years, and you could just expect things like that to happen.
Ms. HENDRICKS: The Lebanon thing, I think he skirted around that very well. So he didn't really answer the question. There's a lot of things I'd like to know about that. he didn't come out with any of it.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Mr. Mondale has been trying to portray Ronald Reagan as someone who is not in command of the facts, particularly on the intricate issues of defense and arms control.Do you think he succeeded in doing that?
RICHARD KEHOE: I don't think he succeeded in doing that. He kept trying it more than once. Every time he got a question he came in with -- tried to always come back to the lack of his information, as it were.
ALICE GARRATT: The thing that I didn't like was that Mondale was constantly talking about the President's not knowing his job, which annoyed me tremendously.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What did you think about the President's idea of sharing information on a defense system with the Russians?
DAVID McINTYRE: No, positively. Because you never could trust them.
Mr. VINCENT: I certainly wouldn't give any technical information to Russia. Why would we have to? If we can protect ourselves that way? The Russians will catch up with -- they'll get their own.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What do you think the President was trying to say in his closing statement?
Ms. KEHOE: Whatever it was, he missed saying it.
Ms. CAIN: I think he was trying to prove a point there --
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What was it?
Ms. CAIN: Well, I really don't know what the point was that he was trying to prove.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Who do you think won the debate tonight?
Ms. MEYER: I think it was quite equal. Reagan skipped answering a few questions and so did Mondale, and they just counteracted each other.
VINCENT: Mondale had a little edge, but it was more even than last time.
Ms. KEHOE: The President came off much stronger this time, and my first thought was now they've evened the debates, where's the third one?
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