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Undecided seniors may hold key to presidential election

ERIE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- They say it is never too late to learn -- or to teach, for that matter.

Klenk
George Klenk  

But time to study presidential candidates -- Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore -- is running short, and lifelong Republican George Klenk is having a late campaign change of heart.

"I visualize Gore and Bush with (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat and (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Barak and I just cant see Bush handling it as well as Gore would," Klenk says. "I don't feel he has the background for handling international relations and diplomatic relations."

It is no secret that the elderly are the most dependable voters. So as the campaign winds down, almost every day now brings a new piece of mail from the candidates, and there are phone calls galore.

Norma Broderick received a recorded message from former first lady Barbara Bush the other day, and several in this group received a pro-Gore message from actor Ed Asner.

Broderick
Norma Broderick  

"It was about what Bush would do to Social Security," Broderick said of the pro-Gore call. "So many trillion he would take away from there and give to younger people to invest $2,000. It was quite a call."

Simple math explains all the attention: A quarter or more of Pennsylvania voters will come from those over the age of 60. It is a group President Clinton carried by 15 points in this key battleground state in 1992, but split evenly with Republican Bob Dole in 1996.

The competition is equally spirited this year. The Texas governor and the vice president are running dead even nationally among those in the 50 to 64 age group, and Bush currently has a small edge among voters over age 64.

The politics here at the Erie Center for Health and Aging reflect the city's blue-collar history. Democratic tradition in these parts goes back a bit.

"I met (Franklin) Roosevelt once on the back of a train," says Erie resident Bob Edwards. He was probably one of the nicest men I ever met -- very polite, the president. I was 17 and in the Navy."

But conservative Democrats like Bill Miller give Bush some hope here.

Edwards
Bob Edwards  

"I really don't agree with the vice president's stand on abortion and vouchers for schools," Miller says.

"Clinton, I agree, was a moderate Democrat," added John Rensel, another lifelong Democrat leaning Republican this year. "Gore is definitely liberal. I don't think Gore has a chance of getting his programs through Congress, especially with a Republican Congress, which is what I think we will have."

Health care is an obvious concern, and most here agree with Gore's view that any new prescription drug benefit be part of the Medicare program. Changing Social Security is another hot topic, but a consensus about what to do is harder to come by.

"My daughter looks at our Social Security checks and chuckles, thinking this would be candy money or dinner money," says Irene Edwards.

Ask around here about campaigns past and present, and there is a sense that things have taken a turn for the worse.

"I think there seems to be more stature in the presidents of a bygone time," says Miller. "It seems more flippant today."

It is a lament heard in the poolroom and at the card tables. These folks come to play -- and to vote -- but they don't always like their choices.

 

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Thursday, October 26, 2000


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