After months of political warfare conducted through books, movies, ads, attacks and counterattacks, voters will finally be treated to live face-to-face debates between the vying candidates, and this time college students are paying attention.Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry agreed to three 90-minute presidential debates. Jim Lehrer of the NewsHour on PBS will moderate the first debate Thursday at the University of Miami in Florida, which will focus on foreign policy and homeland security.”Students are a unique voting group and, generally speaking, they don’t vote in big numbers,” assistant professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University Sean Aday said. “But this year there is some evidence that they’re paying a lot more attention to the election, and so it seems that they will give more attention to this debate.”Some undecided students, like University of Miami senior Elizabeth Lieb, are letting their decision be determined by the outcome of the debates. A registered Independent, Lieb says that she is ready to be “swayed by either candidate.” She also says that most students are starting to get caught up in the excitement of the election and that the debates will be watched closely by people in her area.”That’s one other chance to really sit down and to really get what’s going on. Maybe people haven’t had as much time to read what the candidates are all about but now they have a chance to watch the two candidates arguing and to see what they stand for.””Whoever is elected will be president for the next four years and I’ll graduate in two,” Washington University junior Anna Berkowitz said. “So [the candidates’] goals, policies and agenda are going to start affecting me more so than they are now as a college student.””Students here really do care about what is going on,” Berkowitz said. “Although I think that people are already aware of issues and are active in whatever political parties they might associate with, I also think that having debates brings it closer to home.”The next debate will take place on Oct. 8 at the Washington University of St. Louis, Missouri where undecided voters will have a chance to ask the candidates questions. The final presidential debate will focus on domestic and economic policy and will take place on Oct. 13 at Arizona State University – and an Oct. 5 vice-presidential debate will be held in Cleveland.Both candidates spent the past week in deep preparation for the first debate, typically the most watched. Though traditionally Republicans are seen as being stronger on foreign policy issues, continuing casualties in Iraq may help the senator frame his arguments. Kerry’s challenge will be to convince voters of the failures of Bush’s Iraq policy while outlining a victory plan of his own.Bush hopes to keep Kerry on the defensive by pointing out the apparent contradictions in his voting record and statements. Both candidates are known as good debaters and each are estimated to have won most of the major debates in their respective political histories.



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