- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

MEMPHIS, Tenn. | Sen. Barack Obama may have lost some support when he said people earning $250,000 or more were rich, but Friday’s first presidential debate changed few minds among a mixed group of voters.

“I’m completely conflicted, I really have no idea what I’m going to do,” Anne Tipton, a Memphis attorney, said before the 90-minute debate started.

And after?

“If I went into the voting booth tomorrow I’d just have to stay in there,” she said.

Mike Scholl, an attorney who hosted the debate watch party at his home, did not like it when the Democratic presidential nominee defined wealthy people.

“I know a lot of guys who make that much as small business owners like me, and I wouldn’t consider them rich,” he said. “It’s not rich by any stretch of the imagination once you pay taxes.”

But he still can’t make up his mind.

“I felt like it was sort of half and half, it didn’t really help me,” he said.

Joelle Bradshaw was already an Obama supporter, and organized the party at Mr. Scholl’s home in the Southbluff neighborhood here with the philosophy: “All viewpoints are welcome.”

Her posting on the BarackObama.com site for debate-watch parties encouraged supporters of both Mr. Obama and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain as well as undecided voters, saying: “Let’s mix it up!”

Melissa Lucy arrived a McCain supporter and the debate “strengthened my resolve even further.”

“He’s 100 percent confident that he can lead this nation, and much more presidential than Obama ever is,” she said. “Maybe eight years ago in a pre-Bush United States maybe Obama would have been OK, but right now we need someone who can do the job.”

The forum sealed Marty McAfee’s vote for Mr. Obama, even though he supported Mr. McCain in 2000.

“He used to seem like his own man, but the more I see McCain the less I think of him. It’s really sad to see he’s sold out and become just another politician,” Mr. McAfee said.

“Now he seems to be really owned by those pollsters. How many times did he say, ‘Senator Obama doesn’t understand? He said it in every answer, no matter what the question,” Mr. McAfee said. “He was clearly coached.”

“He’s just like George Bush, all he did was smirk,” one woman said of Mr. McCain.

The definition of rich also bothered Stephen Sauer, who said he heard nothing but generalities from the nominees.

“I was undecided but leaning Obama, but now after the debate I’m back to undecided,” he said.

If the McCain-Obama face-off didn’t excite voters, everyone in the room seemed eager to see the Sarah Palin-Joseph Biden showdown next week. The vice-presidential candidates will meet in St. Louis for their debate and most people at the watch party think that will have a greater impact on undecided voters.

Even the McCain supporters said they found his selection of Mrs. Palin questionable, but Obama fans were more harsh.

“It’s an insult to all the qualified Republicans in the country,” said Chesney McAfee.

“She has a one in three chance of becoming president and that absolutely scares me to death,” said Deborah Mays.

The debate viewers groaned when Mr. McCain mentioned Mrs. Palin as his fellow “maverick” and “partner,” and it turned out to be the most spirited reaction of the evening.

Choosing Mrs. Palin was a “deal breaker” for Quitman Deloach, who said having her “one breath away from the presidency was a terrifying prospect.”

Mr. Deloach, a hair stylist, said he plans to vote for Mr. Obama on Nov. 4.

“I’m a Clinton Democrat. I’ll vote for him, but he hasn’t fully won me over yet,” he said.

After the debate, the 30 or so partygoers - identified by their choice of red or blue cups as they enjoyed a red, white and blue cake decorated with a donkey and elephant - chatted about their views.

Several Obama supporters worked to persuade undecideds, and even tried to reassure Mr. Scholl with a lesson about Mr. Obama’s tax plans.

Mr. Scholl supported Mr. McCain in 2000, but when Mr. Obama rose from little known Democrat to the party’s nominee, “I liked what I saw.”

“I don’t know if you would call me a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat, I guess what I want them to tell me is if they will do something for the group of people you see here,” he said. “Not super rich, not super poor. We pay our taxes and live our lives right.”

Several attendees felt the men each dodged moderator Jim Lehrer’s question about what programs they would have to curb due to the fiscal crisis.

During the debate, most of the Obama supporters in the room laughed when Mr. McCain was shown grimacing or smiling, and one person shouted “Answer the question!” at the TV when he was stalling.

When Mr. McCain said the $700 billion Wall Street bailout was “the end of the beginning,” several attendees groaned and said “Huh?”

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