In a debate that changed few minds, only Carol Washabaugh was clearly moved.
She had come to watch Thursday's debate between Vice President Bush and Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-N.Y.) saying she, like her husband, probably would be voting again for Ronald Reagan. She left backing Walter F. Mondale and Ferraro.
In a group of 12 mostly working-class Pittsburghers watching the debate in Ruth Livingston's living room, Washabaugh, a Republican and a housewife with grown children, was the only person who switched allegiances.
Campaign strategists had not expected the vice-presidential debate to alter the campaign landscape greatly, and for the most part here, it didn't.
But the debate did affect the choice of a few who have approached Election Day with mixed feelings.
Consider Carol Washabaugh, who has voted for Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Reagan. She came leaning toward Reagan -- with reservations: "I don't like Reagan's position on abortion or his bringing Moral Majority leader Rev. Jerry Falwell into his campaign -- and I worry that he's too old."
Only recently has the Mondale campaign message shifted away from talk of federal budget deficits to discussion of the Reagan social agenda and its connections to Falwell. After the debate, she cast her sample ballot for Mondale-Ferraro -- something that she had not expected to do.
"It's the first time I ever considered it, because I just didn't think she had enough experience," Washabaugh said. "I still don't, but I'm impressed with her . . . . I really never heard her talk before tonight . . . . She seemed more forceful, better able to handle herself."
On the religious issue, she said she liked Ferraro's willingness to not be swayed by her Roman Catholic Church leaders. "I was impressed when she said . . . that she would be governing everyone and not just the Catholic Church voters or the fundamentalists. A president has to be for everyone."
Others found that the debate had little effect on their voting decisions. Washabaugh's husband, Ted, a Republican, said Ferraro "dominated" Bush, "who is not my idea of a heavyweight." But he said he will still vote for Reagan.
Steelworker Richard (Rico) Ferencz came as a staunch Mondale supporter, found Ferraro "disappointing" but left just as strongly for Mondale.
Fruit-stand operator Michael Alioto, an independent, arrived undecided, thought Bush was "intimidated" by Ferraro's strong performance and left undecided -- but saying that, if forced to choose now, he probably would pick Reagan.
Julian Hast -- who at 90 is a generation older than Reagan and has mastered the arithmetic intricacies of the Reagan deficit, which he finds "frightening for the coming generations" -- found Ferraro's performance disappointing.
"She talked too fast, didn't emphasize her words . . . and I don't think she made her points the way Mondale was able to do," he said.
After the debate, NBC's Tom Brokaw offered the analysis that "it was not one of Ferraro's sterling performances." In Livingston's apartment, the opening analysis was much the same.
"Personally, Sunday night Mondale seemed sharper than Reagan to me -- and I'm a strong Reagan supporter," said insurance salesman Bill Bates, a conservative Republican. "Tonight I thought Bush seemed a little sharper in his answers than Ferraro did."
"I thought differently," said Alioto, 25, who is undecided but may vote for Reagan. "I thought if anybody was the intimidator it was Ferraro. I thought Bush was misleading with his statistics . . . ."
Livingston, a liberal Democrat who buys and sells steel for her own small, independent company and was the only executive in the group, found the debate uninspiring.
"I was disappointed that there were no sparks," she said. "I expected more from each of them." She did admire Ferraro for "not being . . . intimidated by Bush when she said, 'I don't like the way you patronize me.' "
For Murray Goppman, a mechanic and Democrat who supports Reagan, the debate was a chance to see if he objected as much as he thought he would to having a woman in the White House. He did, faulting Ferraro's response to a question about U.S. military activity in Central America.
"Right away she took a feministic attitude," he said. "I don't personally think she could handle it if something happened to Mondale. I wasn't in the military either, but growing up I read books on Rommel and the Trojan Wars . . . . I could handle it better than she could."
Hast inquired: "How much military experience did Mrs. [Margaret] Thatcher have?" -- a reference to Britain's prime minister who presided over the nation's victory in the battle of the Falkland Islands.
Though many people saw the debate mainly as a test for Ferraro, Dolores Hartman saw it differently.
"I'm very concerned about the age of President Reagan -- I just don't think he'll last another four years," this waitress, a Democrat who voted for Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Reagan, said before the debate. "And I just don't think Bush is up to it."
Afterwards she said: "I just don't think Bush has the stamina to be his own man . . . . Ferraro . . . has the stamina to answer back. I mean, she's a typical woman -- and you can only push a woman so far and she's going to fight back."