Undecided voters: Mixed reactions, emoticons for second presidential debate

October 17, 2012

Was it the comeback debate for the president? Or was it too little, too late?

Victory, it turns out, is in the eye of the undecided voter.

If you’ve been following our previous stories, you’ll know that WBEZ has been conducting a decidedly unscientific study of northern Illinois voters who are still undecided about which presidential candidate they’ll be voting for.

We checked in with them again following Wednesday’s debate to see whether the town hall-style showdown swayed their opinion of either Democratic President Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney – or, for that matter, Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul or martial arts superstar Bruce Lee. (Spoiler alert: “childish” is a word that comes up more than once.)

Kurt Jurgens: Just the facts, ma’am

You might remember Kurt Jurgens as the lifelong Republican-turned-undecided voter who said he doesn’t know if he can vote red in 2012 because he’d come to “despise” what he perceived as Romney’s inauthenticity…but he still has reservations about Mr. Obama.

Jurgens sent me a detailed post-debate email (he watched on TV alongside his 11- and 9-year-old daughters) chronicling his to-the-minute reactions, talking point by talking point.

There’s also a lively text message exchange with a “Liberal Friend.” Some excerpted highlights, as emailed to me:

  • Highlighted Texts to Liberal Friend
    • 8:05: Romney started the same way nebulously
    • 8:07: President came out swinging on ed w/ 3 pts
    • 8:17: Romney and the president are fighting for who supports drilling more :(
    • 8:32 5 point plan [Romney's] isn't bad
    • 8:34 President trashed Romney on spending :)
    • 8:39 Gender inequality Obama empathetic
    • 9:17 Mr Romney sit down you liar
    • 9:36 Both the President and Romney have no idea about the reality about manufacturing creating jobs [pandering to OH] Mechanizing will take all manufacturing jobs

As you can see, Jurgens has his visceral reactions as much as the next undecided voter (he calls Romney a “liar” and gives both men a sad-face emoticon when they discuss drilling for oil). He says Romney acted “childish” at times, and even said he’d go about fact-checking the tiff over remarks the president made following the attack on a U.S. embassy in Libya.

But if you recall, Jurgens also said talking with friends and family about nitty-gritty policy points also influences his vote (consider a recent email sent to me at 6:43 a.m., with the opening line, “Had a fantastic discussion with a friend at work yesterday about capital gains taxes…”)

Wednesday night, Jurgens noted how his 11-year-old daughter – a favorite debate-watching pal of his – declared Romney was losing when he talked about gender inequality.

So which candidate won?

“The President won this one,” wrote Jurgens, who had declared Romney the victor during the first debate.

Okay, then who gets his vote? That’s a bit more difficult.

“If I reduce it to economy and leadership, [I’m] going with Romney on the [economy] and Obama on leadership,” Jurgens writes. When I work him down to only one hypothetical vote, Jurgens said he’s “still leaning towards Obama.”

Jay Abedelal: Ron Paul? Or Bruce Lee?

Our second undecided voter, 34-year-old Chicagoan Jay Abedelal, said he was a bit too tied up with school work to watch the debate, but “saw some footage, read from a few newspapers, spoke to a few people” to play political catch-up.

You’ll likely remember Abedelal for being the undecided voter who’s looking for a candidate who shares qualities with Bruce Lee. (Yes, that Bruce Lee. Abedelal even received some public radio pseudo-fame recently after our Wait, Wait... colleagues upstairs heard his story on WBEZ.)

In fact, Abedelal said he was undecided between voting for Mr. Obama again, writing in Texas Republican Ron Paul, or not voting at all, if he didn’t find someone he believed in.

The first time around, Abedelal praised Romney’s debate performance, even though he’d earlier criticized the Republican party for what he saw as unfair attacks on his Muslim faith after Sept. 11.

But this time, Abedelal flipped: “Obama did a much better job being more aggressive and owning the room to make Romney look like a rich guy who will take care of his rich friends and not the middle/working class,” he wrote in an email.

He also said Romney “made himself look dumb by interrupting the president” during some of the debate’s testier exchanges, saying this made the GOP nominee look “childish.”

But while Abedelal said Mr. Obama “won this battle,” he still seems to have reservations.

“Unfortunately the first debate mattered much more for Obama, and he did well in this debate which was too little too late,” Abedelal said. “He just had to save face.” 

If the election were held today?

“I would write in the person,” he said. “And it looks like Paul for now."

Super Ron Paul

I'm still waiting for a post-debate post-mortem from our third undecided voter, 50-year-old library technician Bridget Kerans, from Schaumburg. The die-hard Hillary Clinton supporter was previously weighing whether to choose Mitt Romney or write in Ron Paul, the Libertarian-leaning Republican congressman from Texas.

No word on which way she's leaning after Wednesday night, but a couple of weeks back, she did send me this photo of Paul, dressed like Superman, on a poster she'd taped up to her house.