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Two generations critique the final debate
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These two people were among a group of about 40 who watched the last presidential debate together Wednesday night. AARP brought together senior citizens and college students to discuss issues of concern to them. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
An intergenerational group of Minnesota seniors and students gathered Wednesday night to watch the final presidential debate. They wanted to hear from Democrat John Kerry and Republican George W. Bush on issues ranging from Social Security to the draft. Many said they weren't satisfied with the answers.

Edina, Minn. — AARP Minnesota invited about 40 seniors and young people to watch the debate at an Italian restaurant in Edina. The bipartisan group sat attentively during the 90-minute debate, neither applauding nor booing. The only audible reaction came near the end, when the crowd laughed at both candidates' comments about the strong women in their lives. But afterwards, people had plenty to say.

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Image Concerned about health care

Some of the seniors said they wanted more specifics on the candidates' health care plans, including how they would address the high cost of prescription drugs. Some said they supported making it legal to import cheaper medicines from Canada, although others were worried about the impact of reimportation on the drug supply. Kerry supports allowing reimportation, while Bush touts the Medicare prescription drug benefit he signed into law.

Many seniors said they weren't happy with the new drug discount card authorized by the bill. Marion Jacobson of Lake Park said it helps some low-income seniors, but for others, it's a headache.

"Seniors are so completely confused on it. You have to buy one card," Jacobson said. "So you pick out which of your array that you will go with, the biggest one, the biggest discount. Bingo! Next week that pharmaceutical company is free to change anything at all with how they charge it and you're stuck for the rest of the year with that card."

The issue of rising health care costs was also a major concern to many of the young people, including Cyndi Fox of Roseville.

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Image Worried about a military draft

"I'm on the verge of getting married right now, and it's a huge concern. We both just graduated," Fox said. "That's more important than even getting paid is, do you have benefits? Are you going to get good benefits? Because without benefits -- it's ridiculous to go buy your own personal plan."

Fox said she's also worried about the economy and the war in Iraq. She said she plans to vote for Kerry because she thinks the country needs a change from the direction it's going in.

Other young people said they didn't believe either Bush or Kerry when the candidates said there wouldn't be a draft.

"A lot of people go back on their promises," said Cassidy Ptacek, a high school student from Grand Meadows. "And I think that if this war continues, it will happen."

Justin Osborne of Wayzata, a student at the University of Minnesota, disagreed.

"Democrats say Bush is going to do it, Democrats are the ones introducing the bill to reinstate the draft, and they're voting against their own bill," Osborne said. "So it's just a scare tactic."

Other young people said they were concerned about funding for Pell grants, and some had reservations about the No Child Left Behind education law.

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Image Concerned about Social Security

On the issue of Social Security, which affects both generations, seniors were skeptical of reform, while some young people were skeptical that they'd ever receive Social Security.

AARP's state president, Skip Humphrey, disagreed with Bush's support for allowing young people to invest a portion of their earnings in personal savings accounts. Humphrey, a Democrat and former state attorney general, said Bush's approach pits seniors against young people.

"This issue of Social Security is not one that is old people against young people," Humphrey said. "It's about how we take care of all of our people after they have given a full life of good solid work."

Humphrey was also disappointed that neither candidate mentioned environmental issues once during a 90-minute debate on domestic issues.

As part of the AARP event, participants held a mini election based on their taste buds. They sampled three desserts -- a blue one symbolizing Kerry, red for Bush and green for Nader -- and voted their preference. The Kerry dessert won by one vote, indicative of the divided electorate.

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