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A pair of undecided Arlington voters evaluate the debate

ARLINGTON -- Patty and Klaus Driessen scribbled feverishly on their notepads Wednesday night in their living room, jotting notes and hanging onto every word presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama made during their first televised debate of the general election season.

They are proud, undecided voters -- something of a rarity in these partisan times. But while he tends to vote Democratic and she leans Republican, the Driessens both relish the campaign itself, and the educational process of waiting until the last moment to decide which candidate deserves a vote.

"We're probably more toward the middle, both of us," he said. "I'm going to listen to both debates and make my decision. In 2008, I supported Obama. But I'm still open."

Klaus Driessen, a retired school superintendent, nodded with approval as Obama voiced opposition to offering older Americans vouchers, as an alternative to using the federal Medicare program .

"The voucher system is not going to work," he said. "Insurance companies are in business to make money, and if you give them vouchers they're going to make money."

His wife also opposed vouchers for Medicare, and she frowned disapprovingly as Romney pitched his support for the concept.

"There's not going to be quality of Medicare service, if you're using vouchers," she said.

A retired high school teacher, Patty Driessen said she has seen voucher programs fail in schools.

"They can't pay their bills," she said. "They don't hire qualified teachers. They end up folding. It's too loosey-goosey."

The Driessens may be just the kind of family that will tilt the 2012 presidential election one way or the other. With a little more than a month to go before the election, they say they still haven't decided who deserves their ballots. They are using the televised debates to forge their opinions about the candidates and their stances on what the retired educators consider the important issues of the day.

Wednesday evening, they sat side-by-side in cushioned chairs and watched the first presidential debate on television, their poodle-terrier mutt Charlie at their feet.

Each brandished a notebook, with an outline of the handful of issues they care about the most: education, health care and some foreign policy topics that the candidates are expected to tackle in a future debate.

'Liberal' not a bad word

Outside, their one-story, red brick home in Arlington's Trails East neighborhood, a sign proclaiming support for Democratic state Senate candidate Wendy Davis, a Democrat, is stuck in the grass. Davis is in a hotly contested race with Republican candidate Mark Shelton.

But the Driessens say they don't vote along party lines.

"I don't like liberal being a bad word," Patty Driessen said.

Klaus Driessen, a retired Lake Worth superintendent who still teaches German classes part-time at the University of Texas at Arlington, said he isn't satisfied with Obama's first four years in office, but he also isn't ready to blame him for the nation's continued economic and fiscal problems.

"One of the complaints has been the recovery hasn't been fast enough. I don't think everything should be blamed on the president," said Klaus Driessen, 64. "A lot of it has to do with Congress. I feel positive. He has done the best he could. We were in a pretty bad recession. It's just taking awhile to get out of it. All signs are pointing to it continuing to improve."

A German's worldview

Klaus Driessen is a naturalized citizen. He is originally from Germany, and immigrated to the United States when he was 9 years old.

"I'm from Germany. I grew up there. I have a little bit more of a world view."

Patty Driessen, 60, was raised in the Texas Panhandle.

The couple has a grown son, who now lives in Colorado. His political beliefs are different from that of either parent -- and are perhaps a byproduct of the conservative area of Texas in which he grew up.

"He leans way to the right," Klaus Driessen said.

Patty Driessen said she also supported Obama in 2008, but was impressed with Romney's ability to debate.

"Right now, I'm leaning toward Obama. But I'm seeing Romney in a much more favorable light. He came across very well tonight. The way he presented himself, he came across as much more personable. It was a good debate."

The Driessens also noted that moderator Jim Lehrer at times seemed to lose control of the debate, with both candidates expounding upon their answers beyond the allotted time.

But they appreciated that Romney and Obama were reasonably polite to each other.

"I like this where you just let them talk," Klaus Driessen said.

The Driessens also say they're looking forward to watching the next debate, where foreign policy issues are more likely to be discussed. Klaus Driessen was in the Army during the Vietnam era and said he supports removal of troops from Afghanistan.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796