Denise Mulle said she started out the election season more anti-Bush than pro-Kerry. But she read newspapers and Kerry campaign literature that helped her understand the Democratic presidential nominee's positions on the issues.
"It's not good enough to say that Bush is so horrible that I'd vote for Bozo before I'd vote for Bush -- even though that's what first brought me to the Kerry campaign," she said.
Mulle, 52, who runs a nursing home consulting business with her husband, Ken, said she wanted to do her part to help the Massachusetts senator, who she agrees has struggled to get his message out.
Using a list of undecided voters supplied by the Kerry campaign, Mulle sent out 100 invitations and called 80 other wavering voters to attend a reception at her home in this tony suburb of St. Louis on Sunday. About a half-dozen showed up.
As the guests sipped wine, the discussion was more a Bush-bashing session than a Kerry pep rally. "You've told us why we should not vote for President Bush," one woman said, "now tell us why we should vote for Kerry." Campaign workers rushed to answer the question, but it symbolized one of the biggest hurdles John F. Kerry faces.
Sue Hippler, who sat quietly through most of the discussion, said she was just as in the dark on who Kerry is as a person. "One of the problems I had with Kerry while I was watching the Democratic convention, is that all he got across about himself was that he was a war hero in Vietnam. . . . That was so long ago. I was left with the feeling that I don't know what Kerry stands for," she said.
Jeff Smith, a political science instructor at Washington University in St. Louis, tried to explain that Kerry was attempting to challenge Republican arguments that he would be weak on defense and national security.
Sam Winslow, a former teacher, said he was "leaning the way you all want me to lean," but he wanted to know Kerry's plan for improving education. He said he knows that Bush's approach, which relies on testing, is controversial, "but if you teach to the test, at least students will learn what is in the test." He was cornered by Margaret Donnelly, a state representative supporting Kerry, for a tutorial.
Mulle said she thought the event was successful. "This is an important election for me. I have too much at risk with my kids," she said, referring to continuing deficits and a possible reinstatement of the draft if Bush is reelected. "If Bush wins, I would be really, really, really sorry if I didn't contribute to trying to defeat him. And if he loses, I will know I was a part of making something happen."
Hippler said she thought the session had been informative. "I really didn't think so much about the deficit," she said, until Kerry supporters noted how the nation's debt has swelled under Bush. But she wasn't convinced. "I think that for me to make my final decision, I'll be watching the debates," she said.
Hippler said she voted for Bush's father in 1988 but abandoned him for Bill Clinton in 1992. She voted for Bush in 2000 because Al Gore "came across so badly in the debates." She said she is not happy with how Bush invaded Iraq, but she is also worried about "changing right in the middle" of the war. Her husband, Doug, who also attended Sunday's event, is not conflicted. "He wants Bush out," she said.