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Our World

October 17, 2012

VIDEO: Questions at town-hall debate reflect economic angst

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The everyday Americans who engaged the candidates at Tuesday's second presidential debate spoke directly to a question widely expected to decide this election:

Whom can they trust to improve their faith in the economy, the country and their futures?

A college student, a respiratory therapist and a club owner were among the undecided Long Island voters selected randomly by the Gallup organization to pose questions to President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney during their only town-hall-style debate of the season.

The questioners at Hofstra University seemed like real people, speaking in sometimes thick New York accents, occasionally fumbling to find their reading glasses or the notecards on which they'd scrawled their questions. They sharply probed the candidates' weaknesses - asking questions that prompted exchanges about Romney's wealth or Obama's response to the violence in Libya. Their topics, in the aggregate, made plain the economic uncertainty that dozens of polls have already told us haunts a wide swath of America.

"Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment," began Jeremy Epstein, the evening's first questioner. "What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?"

Katherine Fenton, a young woman, offered a glimpse of the uncertainty through her own prism: "In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"

Some questions were framed as a referendum on Obama, an effort to get at what he's done to deserve reelection. Phillip Tricolla asked the president to explain why gas prices are so high. Susan Katz said she was "disappointed" with the lack of progress she's seen over the past four years.

Some of these questioners left the impression that they like the president and may even have supported him last time. But their questions suggested that they are searching for a reason they should do so again next month.

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