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Military families pay special attention to debaters

FORT WORTH -- Karon Tank couldn't help but chuckle.

A staunch supporter of Republican John McCain's presidential bid, she found some of Democrat Barack Obama's ideas for the military actually laughable.

"I believe that what McCain is saying is true," said Tank, 50. "This is his forte because of his experience. He knows what he's doing.

"Obama is just a junior senator," she said. "He reminds me of Elmer Fudd. And I'm not trying to put down Elmer Fudd."

Tank is among those paying special attention to where the candidates stand on military issues -- a key theme in Friday’s first presidential debate -- because she has a son in the Air Force Individual Ready Reserve.

Even as the nation's focus is on the United States' stumbling economy, the war and what happens to U.S. soldiers once a new president is sworn into office next year is an issue the election may turn on for some voters.

Across town from where Tank watched the debate with family and friends, Gerri Combest was among those watching at a Democratic debate watch party.

She, too, has much at stake. Her husband, National Guard Army Capt. Chris Combest, is now in Georgia, about to ship out to Iraq.

"It's interesting that John McCain talks about cutting spending, not raising taxes," Combest said. "But the country has never gone to war without sacrificing something.

"We have wars going on, but he doesn't want to find a way to pay for it," she said. "It makes no sense. But I've thought that (about the administration) for the past few years."

Other thoughts on the debate:

Earmarks: When McCain pointed out Obama's efforts to earmark funding for local projects before he began his own presidential bid, Tank could hardly restrain her laughter. "I love it," she said.

Cutting spending: When McCain said that he'd like to put in place a spending freeze on all but the most essential services, Ann Hartzo -- an independent-leaning Republican who supports McCain -- smiled. "It sounds good to me," she said. Combest, though, was cheering Obama on. "He is the first to say he won't be able to fulfill everything he wants because of the bailout package," she said.

Moving troops: Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq in 16 months drew appreciation from Combest. But she wants to make sure that Iraqi people left behind are safe when military support is no longer there. "As long as they are in a safe environment ... I support pulling them [troops] out," she said. "I also support Obama saying we need to increase troops in Afghanistan."

Experience: Lori Archibald, an independent who supported and worked for Democrat Hillary Clinton during the primary, said McCain's experience showed during the debate.

"I think when you see the two candidates together, the contrast is pretty clear," said Archibald, whose father and three brothers served in the Navy. "It's a night and day difference.

"I think maybe in several years, Obama would be ready," she said. "It's just too soon for him now."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

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