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What do swing state voters want to hear from Biden and Trump at the presidential debate?

Written by on June 27, 2024

(WASHINGTON) — As President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump prepare to take the debate stage in Atlanta on Thursday night, voters across the key swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania spoke with ABC News about how they’re feeling during an election where they feel unhappy with both major candidates – and what they hope to hear on the debate stage.

“I’m at a point where I just can’t really, you know, have a decision because of what my choices are. You know, I’m gonna vote, but I’m just not comfortable with who I’m voting for,” Barbara Chatman told ABC News from Headmaster’s Barbershop in Atlanta. “”One, he’s just been convicted, I feel uncomfortable about that. The other one they’re saying he’s too old – I feel uncomfortable about that. I feel like we should have someone new that’s running.”

It’s a feeling Laura Ruesch, who lives in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, shares.

“I have never felt worse about the options for presidential candidates this year. I really feel like it’s not a valid choice; I’m very upset at both parties for the candidates that they’ve put forward,” she told ABC News.

Chatman and Ruesch are what some analysts call “double-haters” – voters who feel uneasy about both Biden and Trump. A poll published Thursday from 538 and Ipsos found 21% of likely voters expressing that view.

ABC News interviewed dozens of voters across the four battleground states – where Biden beat Trump by around only 267,000 votes in total in 2020. And while some say they lean toward a candidate – with some apprehensions – many are yet to decide who they’ll vote for and are looking to the debate to help make up their minds.

“We have two people who have been there before…. [in Pennsylvania,] everybody’s across the board and they don’t feel strongly one way or another. So the debate is going to do a lot for them to, I think, lean one way or another,” Jerry Longo, a second-generation owner of Jerry’s For All Seasons, a garden center in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, told ABC News.

Stan Kowalski, a construction worker in Scranton, said that he’s concerned that Trump is headed into the debate while facing legal battles and verdicts. “I wish there wasn’t so much stuff hanging over his back going into this, but… this courtroom stuff isn’t any picnic by no means for anybody, but, I think he’s holding together pretty good, and we’ll see what happens.”

And on what concerns him about Biden, Kowalski said his age, as well as border and economic issues that Biden has grappled with.

Age is top of mind for many of the voters across all four states.

In Waukesha, Wisconsin, college student Lucas Franke says he is concerned about the ages of the two candidates.

“With candidates as old as they are, any kind of medical anything, a heart problem, a stroke for either of them could be debilitating,” Franke told ABC News.

At Cozy Nook Farm, west of Waukesha, dairy farmer Tom Oberhaus is also concerned.

“I am approaching that age myself. I don’t know if there’s anybody that 70 years old and older that says they’re as sharp and shrewd as they were when they were 50. That’s just the way life is,” he told ABC News from his farm. “Why don’t we want our sharpest people as our president is our leader of our country?”

Like many of the voters ABC News talked to, Oberhaus – who has run the farm with his wife since 1985 – agonizes over the economy.

“The rampant inflation that we’re in right now is critical. I mean, it’s it’s eating us alive. We can’t, you know, as farmers, we don’t get to set our prices and and we’re getting beat up by inflation,” he told ABC News.

And he’s not the only one.

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, Jennifer Merceau said her husband owns a masonry business, and she wants to see the economy “back to where it was.”

“Self-employed people are really struggling in this economy to make sure their customers are taken care of,” Merceau told ABC News. “I’d like to see what they’re going to do for small businesses in this country. I think that small business owners work really hard, and they’re good to their customers. And I’d like to see what can be done for them, which will in turn stimulate our economy even more,” she said of what she hopes the candidates are asked about at the debate, in addition to the border and military.

“We’re all just struggling out here, you know, we work, we all work full time, and, you know, we’re trying to take care of our kids. We need help with childcare. Like, it’s. It’s a struggle out here,” Cierra Waterhouse, also from Scranton, told ABC News.

The voters hope the economy is center stage at the debate.

“I would need to hear from the candidates that they really understand what the average person is going through, what our financial situations are,” accounting assistant Destiny Johnson told ABC News in Milwaukee.

Voters also expressed concern over immigration policy and border security, as well as America’s involvement with the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars. Polling has shown that those issues, while not top of mind for voters, have been on their minds, and Biden and Trump have grappled with these issues differently while on the trail.

Janee Johnson, who works as a waitress at Toast ‘N Jams in Muskegon, Michigan, said the focus should be on doing the “right things for America.”

“I feel like the best thing that they can say is, I am here for America, and America only. That would make me happy. That would make me trust who I’m putting in office at that point,” Johnson told ABC News.

Michael Kordecki, the owner of that restaurant, wishes he could tell the candidates to “be more positive about America, about our future, and about what we can do with or without new people coming into the country.” He added, “We have an immigration issue. I don’t think it’s that big of an issue. I think it just needs to be regulated. I think that we also have an issue with, older Americans not being well taken care of. I think that issue needs to be addressed at some point.”

Despite their distaste for the candidates, the voters told us they are planning to show up to the polls in November.

“You have to like one of them more than another, and your vote matters. So whether it’s for someone who you feel strongly about or you just feel more strongly about the other one, it’s important to get out there and vote,” said Longo, the garden center owner in Pennsylvania.

At Headmasters Barbershop in Atlanta, Chatman says she will still go out and vote this November.

“It’s sad that we only have two choices and neither choices are on the top of my list,” she said. “But at this point I have to go for someone because I am a voter. I feel like that my ancestors struggled to for me to have this right, so I refuse to allow anything to stand in the way of that. So I will be voting, just not sure who.”

ABC News’ Jacob Steinberg contributed to this report.

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