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First-time electors weigh exchanges

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Tiffin University students Prisca Strother, left, Amanda Luhring, 19, and Angela Sosebee focus on candidates' responses.

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TIFFIN - Angela Sosebee hoped to learn enough from last night's debate to help her decide who she'll support when she casts a ballot in her first presidential race on Nov. 2.

And it only took the once-undecided 19-year-old from Tiffin University a few minutes to leave the fence and put her vote behind President Bush. Ms. Sosebee said she was quickly turned off by Sen. John Kerry's attacks on Mr. Bush.

"He is attacking Bush instead of actually stating an opinion on anything," Ms. Sosebee said. "Bush is doing a really good of defending the things he has done. He used a lot of good points about the things Kerry has done."

Ms. Sosebee joined about 20 of her classmates to watch the debate at Chisholm Auditorium on Tiffin's campus. The gathering was among dozens nationwide sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonprofit, nonpartisan commission that analyzes presidential debates.

This classroom of mostly first-time voters in a battleground state matches the demographic that both parties have coveted in the final weeks of the election. The class leaned Republican, but it was interested in hearing what the candidates had to say in the first of three debates.

But Josh Nehls, 18, had his mind made up before the debate began and the dialogue he heard didn't alter that position.

"John Kerry is showing that President Bush went to war in Iraq for the wrong reasons," said Mr. Nehls, who is studying international security. "He used 9/11 as a scapegoat to go after them. President Bush does not have the right mentality and policy for homeland security."

Mr. Nehls said the debate left him convinced that Mr. Bush is willing to leave troops in Iraq to prove that he made the correct decision by going to war.

"He is trying to prove that going to war with Iraq was right, even though he knows it wasn't."

Amanda Luhring, 19, said Mr. Bush cemented her view that he is the better candidate.

"Bush has made it quite obvious that we do have problems in America, but the first step to taking care of the terrorist problem is going over and taking care of the terrorists ourselves because no other country wants to do it," she said. "No one else wants to take care of the problem. We have the best military and the most free-functioning nation.

"[Mr. Kerry] makes good points, but some of the stuff he says is just hot air."

Prisca Strother, a 19-year-old who was undecided before the debate said she thought the President made a solid case for keeping his job.

"This will make up a lot of people's minds," she said. "When you look for a president, you want someone who is compassionate and knows the facts - not someone who is going to look down on people and float around the issues."

Professor Scott Britten, who offered class credit to those who participated in the viewing, said he hoped the debates would help his students make informed decisions on election day.

Mr. Britten, an associate professor of communications, has also scheduled viewing for the rest of the debates. After the debate, the class discussed what they heard and will forward feedback to the Commission on Presidential Debates.

"There is still a lot of disconnect of younger voters, even though they have been courted heavily," Mr. Britten said. "There is a lot of hope that the debates will serve an important job."

Contact Steve Eder at:

seder@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.

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