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Debate Questions From The Streets

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CBSNews.com producer Jarrett Murphy reports from the site of the first presidential debate.
Guillermo has driven a cab in Miami for a long time, he says. He's been doing it for a year.

Compared to most other Americans who'll watch Thursday night's presidential debate, Guillermo's stay has been brief.

Yet the Nicaraguan native, interviewed as he waited for a fare outside the Miami Beach Ritz-Carlton, already shares a common worry — something he'd like to ask President Bush and Sen. John Kerry about when they take the stage at the University of Miami, a half-hour cab drive away.

"Social Security," he answers when asked what issue he'd raise to the two candidates, "because I'm concerned about my retirement."

Guillermo was not sure he would be able to watch the debate, given his job. And of course, he will not be able to ask questions. PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, moderator of six of the last seven presidential or vice-presidential debates, will ask all of them.


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Lehrer likely will touch on some of the same topics people in Miami raised. The phrasing, however, could be different.

Joseph Callahan, speedwalking shirtless on the beach, said the president's truthfulness was on his mind.

"Ask George Bush why he wasted all his money in Iraq and why he lied about the weapons of mass destruction," he asked as he trod over the hard-packed sand, the sun and temperature rising.

"The credibility is gone," the Miami Beach resident said.

Yvonne Bailey, also of Miami Beach, was talking with a friend, Fred, about the impact of recent hurricanes. But she said she would ask the candidates about "the economy — that's the first thing. It's very important."

Asked if she thought the economy was still bad, she said, "Yes, it is," then hurried on to work.

Richard Eglinton and Michelle Garcia, two British real estate agents who were enjoying their last day of Miami sun before returning to Scotland and Spain, respectively, said a question was raised by the people they saw sleeping on the beach.

"I think the one that most people in the U.K. would wonder is, what's the right balance between the money that America spends on wars, against the poverty we see here," Eglinton said. There are those people on the beach, he added, and "people without health care."

The two had been in Florida showing properties to wealthy clients. Hurricane weather had chased them from Orlando to Tampa, Garcia said.

"You don't need to go very far from the glitzy parts of Miami to find poverty," Eglinton said.

Other parts of Miami pose different questions. Around town, signs and announcements challenge the idea that the United States is a monolingual country. At a South Miami Beach restaurant called Mojitos, a cocktail named "Cuba Will Be Libre" begs inquiry about U.S. policy toward Castro's regime, which many here fled. The talk about the debate at Mojitos on Wednesday night, however, was less serious — about John Kerry's makeup.

At the student café at the University of Miami campus on Wednesday, junior Roxolana Woloszyn said she would ask about rumors she has heard that a draft is being considered. Her dining companion, Evan Barnebey said he would ask Mr. Bush about Iraq.

As for Kerry, "I would want to push him to be more definitive for plans — not necessarily on terror, but for this country," particularly on the lingering sluggishness in the economy.

Neither the audience nor the candidates will be allowed to ask questions on Thursday night. At the town-hall style debate in St. Louis on Oct. 8, audience members will ask questions, but they must be approved ahead of time, and follow-ups are not allowed.

By Jarrett Murphy