As groups of Democrats and Republicans gathered at separate Cape Girardeau restaurants Thursday to cheer on a candidate in the presidential debates, it was clear many minds were made up a long time ago.
Travis Strobach and Rob Vollmer, students at Southeast Missouri State University, joined a GOP group at Cedar Street restaurant and bar. Both said they have their minds made up for Bush. Vollmer said he came to listen to Kerry contradict himself.
While most people said the debate would not influence their vote, it was clear from the comments that both sides weren't just toeing a party line.
"A lot of guys who have voted Republican all their lives were here tonight," said Rick Vines of Cape Girardeau, who was among a group crowded into the back room of Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. Twenty televisions encircled the room, and two large-screen televisions at either end broadcast the debate between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry.
"There were some strong Republicans here tonight," Vines said. "I think what you see here tonight are the 'ABB' voters -- 'Anybody But Bush.'"
The debate-watching crowds were interested in the foreign policy questions the two candidates were debating, as well as other issues.
"We're also talking about domestic issues," said Jim Eftink of Oran, Mo., a Kerry supporter. "It has a lot to do with the welfare of this country."
"We're dealing with the economy," said Debbie Kitchen of Cape Girardeau. "Missouri has suffered greatly under this president, losing 360,000 jobs in three years."
Gary Thurman of Cape Girardeau said that while Bush claims to be on the right path with foreign policy, "it's clear to me we need a different path."
Thurman said he thought Kerry had clarified any issues that undecided voters might have concerns about.
"I have been making a lot of calls to a lot of undecided voters who were unclear on Kerry's position," Thurman said. "This debate has really been able to clarify those, in my mind."
Republican Pat Patterson, a New Jersey transplant now living in Cape Girardeau, said he believes "Bush has his finger on the pulse of America. He has done a great deal for the country and has shown America and the world what it means to be a man."
Patterson said he admired but felt cautious about Bush's "cockiness and his attitude," but added that "John Kerry is morally bankrupt and deficient in leadership."