Independent Voters Could Decide Congress

Pennsylvania is a perennial elections battleground state. Yet in 2008, President Obama won the state by more than 10 points - largely thanks to strong support from independents. Today, many of those same independents are expressing some buyer's remorse. But does that mean they're prepared to switch horses? CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric traveled to Philadelphia to find out, in the latest installment of "American Voices."



They're disappointed, disillusioned and in some cases, downright disgusted. Independent voters are now the largest segment of the electorate, representing 40 percent of Americans.

"They promise you everything and give you nothing, it seems, a lot of the times," says Scott Barclay, a 40-year-old father of three.

"Unfortunately, I think a lot of people feel like Obama's going to be a one-term president," says Maria Reice.

"I know the companies that got the bailouts -- some of those people did rather well," says Bruce Yordy. "I wasn't one of them."

Janis Fontecchio feels, "I need someone who's going to represent us, not Democrats, Republicans, but the people who gave them the job."

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In Pennsylvania the governor's mansion, one Senate seat and 19 House seats are up for grabs in the midterm election. The Republicans have an edge in almost every statewide poll, but there's a good chance independents might be the real key in the Keystone state. CBS News went to Independence Hall, the place where the right to free speech was born, to let those independent voices be heard.

Couric: "How would you describe an independent?"

"I don't adhere to party lines," Yordy says. "I adhere to what I think is going to do the right thing for our country."

Barclay agrees. "When I look at the political situation right now, all I really see is that the Democrats are against the Republicans. The Republicans are against the Democrats. And no one's really for America."

That was a sentiment expressed over and over by our panel, perhaps because attack ads have been running over and over in Pennsylvania. Of the more than 37,000 campaign ads that have aired here in the last two months, a whopping 80 percent of them went negative.

"I feel like I'm in a supermarket in the cereal aisle, and every box is one of the attack ads," Fontecchio says. "So, I take it down and look on the back to find the ingredients and the nutrition," she says. But there's no labels on it. There's no labels. How are you supposed to find out how you can vote when there isn't even anything to tell you what they stand for?"

Couric: "Are you willing to take out your anger about what is or isn't happening, out on the Democrats in November?"

"I'm not out for revenge, I'm out for answers," Yordy says. "I'm out for solutions."

"Results," Reice adds.

"I don't want excuses, I want results," Yordy says.

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But results have been hard to come by -- as are jobs. Since the last election, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania has jumped from 6 to 9 percent. In fact, Barclay's job as a marketing director -- and its six-figure salary -- will be eliminated Friday. Still, he doesn't want to fire the Democrats just yet.

"If anything, I would be leaning towards trying to maintain a little of the status quo," Barclay says. "If there's a big shift in power, my feeling is it's only going to spend the next two years undoing it all, for a net game sum of zero."

Even those who are employed are struggling. Kati Gray Sadler is a 52-year-old single mom, working two jobs. That still might not be enough to afford to send her straight-A son, Trevor, to college.

"He's an excellent student and speaks Japanese and Spanish. And he self-studied it to learn it. I mean, he's doing all the things he could possibly do to get in the best school in the nation. And now, he's posting things like, you know, 'I'll start off with community college, 'cause I don't want my mom to struggle'," Sadler says.

Couric: "That must have been pretty heartbreaking to see that."

"Very much so," she replies. "So we've been talking a lot about the candidates -- for the upcoming election. When I go in there, I'm voting with Trevor in mind completely."

There was unanimous agreement in the group - the Tea Party isn't their cup of tea.

Barclay sees it as "Another voice from the fringe."

"They make statements that are absolutely terrorizing," Fontecchio says.

Sadler thinks, "Making a lot of noise doesn't necessarily mean you have the right answers."

Reice adds, "It shouldn't be the Tea Party, it should be the inflammatory party."

Just as the founding fathers learned the art of compromise more than 220 years ago, these independent voters hope their elected officials will somehow meet them in the middle.

"I mean, just being here at Independence Hall, and -- and thinking of what happened here a few hundred years ago," Yordy says. "This is where our country began. And we just need to take a look at it, go back to our roots, and pick up and go forward."

  • Katie Couric

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