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One presidential debate over, and still undecided in Ohio

The Monitor watched Wednesday's presidential debate with undecided voter Maggie O'Toole in Ohio – an important battleground state. Why she is still not ready to commit to either President Obama or Mitt Romney. 

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O’Toole, a marketing coordinator for an accounting firm and an MBA student at the University of Akron, considers herself a moderate Republican who swings to the left on social issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage. “I have a number of friends who are gay and I want them to have the same opportunity I would have,” she explains. But O'Toole is also worried about the state of the economy and how it has languished for the past four years. She comes from a family of lifelong Republicans and voted for GOP presidential nominee John McCain four years ago. In the 2008 primary, though, she voted Democratic, for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Watching Wednesday’s debate with a friend in her stylish, two-bedroom apartment while dining on carryout Chinese, O’Toole says she is disappointed with how the candidates use competing statistics to hammer each other in assessing who is suffering most in the current economic climate.

“They can take the exact same data to tell you two different things,” she says. Romney is the most misleading, O’Toole says, when he says the average middle-class family’s household income is down $4,000. “I don’t think that’s a fair average.… Also, how are you determining who is middle class, which is a huge debate the country has been having for many years,” she says.

O'Toole also takes issue with Romney's statement that Obama has cut $716 billion out of Medicare for current beneficiaries. The entire discussion of entitlements, she says, is an exercise by both sides in “pandering to elderly voters.” 

“It’s kind of frustrating because, regardless, my generation is going to pay for [the rising costs in health care for current retirees],” she says. “On some level it should cost something. The idea that a significant portion of our country is exempt from paying for the largest portion of our GDP is wrong.”

O’Toole recoils when Romney invokes “death panels” when saying Obama’s health-care overhaul “puts in place an unelected board that's going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have.” For her, the discussion is too reminiscent of the incendiary rhetoric of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin four years ago.

“That was her one contribution to the campaign, aside from the jokes,” O'Toole says. 

One challenge for Romney is that his message of an economy in dire straits is not so apparent in Ohio: State unemployment fell from 8.8 percent to 7.2 percent over the past year, and is now about a percentage point below the national average. More than 20,000 factory jobs have been added since January.

Even so, O’Toole says people she knows “still feel worse off than they were four years ago,” because of shrinking retirement benefits and a general sense that economic recovery is not as swift as they once thought.

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