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At the wire, voters reflect on their decisions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 3, 2008 - For Demetrius Braxton, a 36-year-old employee of a St. Louis drug and alcohol treatment center, the decision on who will get his vote for president of the United States is coming down to a single question.

While jobs, high energy prices and health care all are serious issues, Braxton said, what he really needed to know on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon in November, was this:

"When I go to sleep at night, who will make me feel most safe?"

As of 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon -- in the midst of a noisy, enthusiastic get out the vote rally at Kiener Plaza downtown -- he was still searching for an answer.

"It will probably go right down to the end," said Braxton. "I will know when I will know."

On Sunday, with just two days before Tuesday's election, St. Louisans attended church services, shopped, cheered their football team, dined on barbecue and funnel cakes and pondered life after Tuesday.

Barbara Johnson, who attended the Kiener Plaza rally on Sunday, wore a T-shirt that said "I'm Voting For That One," referring to the label that Republican presidential hopeful John McCain gave to Democratic opponent Barack Obama during the second of the candidates' three debates.

While Johnson said she is buoyed by national polls showing Obama ahead, she said, "I'm not going to fall apart if he doesn't win.

"What is important," she said, "is that God's will be done."

From Kiener Plaza north to the Edward Jones Dome, where the Rams played the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, voters' opinions about the election were plentiful and varied. While most said they had made their decisions months ago, a significant number said they still do not yet know who will get their vote.

"I don't like either one of them," said Debbie Schacht, 41, a distributor and manufacturer of vacuum cleaners from Mehlville as she awaited the start of Sunday's Rams-Cardinals game.

Schacht said she is seriously considering writing in her own name, or the name of a friend.

"Am I excited about the election?" she asked. "Yes, I'm excited; I'm excited for it to be over.

"Whatever happens, though, I hope things start turning around on Wednesday."

Her brother, Chris Schacht, 36, a physical education instructor and soccer coach at Hillsboro High School, said no matter who wins, it has been a historic campaign.

"I've been teaching for 12 years and I have never seen teen-agers this excited about an election."

He said that he knows several children that are struggling with their schoolwork because they have been forced to get jobs to help support their families. "These aren't kids who are saving their money to buy clothes or a new car; they are literally working to help their families survive."

Chris Schacht said he is leaning toward McCain but still has not completely made up his mind.

"They're both supposed to be on Monday night football," he said. "I'll see what they say then."

Chris Schacht, like his sister, says the campaign has done little to make him more trusting of politicians or the political process. "I hate all the mudslinging," he said.

Like Braxton, he said his vote ultimately may come down to a question of security.

"I still remember 9/11. I remember everybody saying, 'Hey, we need to do something about this,' so we went to war and everybody was good with it.

"Now I am hoping McCain can be the guy with a worthwhile exit plan -- something that will finally put an end to the war but that will still be effective and not just a case of saying 'here you go; here are the keys to the bus.' "

Ernie Angelbeck, 55, of Desoto, a business representative with Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 36, spent his last morning before the 2008 election grilling bacon-wrapped sausages and talking football and politics with friend, Ray Swafford, 55, of Sappington.

Angelbeck, who is white and a strong supporter of Obama, said Obama's candidacy has been electric.

"Whether you vote for him or against him," he said, "he's got everybody talking."

He said he remains concerned that whites will vote against Obama strictly because they view him as a black man.

"And," he said, "that's a shame. This is 2008. Race should not be an issue. I went through the 1960s; I know what this can mean."

Like Angelbeck, Rams fan Richard Kitchen, a retired union carpenter from Overland, is also a staunch Obama supporter. Much of his reason, though, has to do with McCain's age.

"I'm 73," he said. "We're the same age. I walk down to my basement and when I get down there, I forget what I was going for."

Kitchen called McCain a "bonafide war hero" who spent five years as a prisoner of war.

"Mentally and physically, he's used up," he said. "Nobody knows that better than I do."

Mike Muller, 48, of Crestwood, said he has never voted for a Democrat for president and probably will vote for McCain on Tuesday. But it has been a long, difficult decision.

A director of operations for a business jet company, he too does not like his choices this time around.

His biggest worry is that Obama will increase taxes for businesses. He also does not like it that Obama and other Democrats are trying to pin all the blame for the mortgage crisis on President Bush and the Republicans. "Everybody had a hand in that debacle," he said.

He says he intends to make his decision by spending the next two days "reading everything I can get my hands on."

He says that despite many political experts already calling the election for Obama, he is not quite so sure. "There are a lot of people talking, but they still have to walk the walk," he said.

With the Gateway Arch over his shoulder, Corey Hutchins, 28, an unemployed restaurant worker from St. Louis, stood with an Obama shirt heavy with more than a dozen gleaming Obama presidential buttons. Hutchins was with his friend, Kasi Howard, 22, a student at St. Louis University who said she hopes to one day become a doctor.

Obama's candidacy, Hutchins said, has given him and young blacks everywhere a new sense of pride and hope.

"It shows black people everywhere that there is no limit," he said. "It says that there is no limit to where we can go, no limit to the hurdles that we can overcome.

"I guess I always believed that," he said, "but there is always some doubt in your mind, just because of the way things are."

He will be up early, he says, to cast his vote for Obama. But he says what is most important is not so much who we vote for, but that we vote. All of us.

"If you don't, you are passing up something you will never be able to get back again," he said.