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ECONOMY-ELECTION Oct-6-2008 (780 words) With photos posted Oct. 2 and 3. xxxn

Economic crisis makes voters take harder look at presidential race

By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Voter registration is up nationwide and the U.S. presidential election captured the world's attention some time ago, but the current economic crisis that prompted Congress to approve a $700 billion financial recovery package seems to be creating a more intensive focus by voters on the candidates.

"I have friends who were pretty passive about the election before all of this came up, and now the presidential race dominates most of our conversations," said Phylis Perry, 55, a parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Pitman, N.J.

Democrats, Republicans and Independents are looking for a president who will navigate the country out of what they see as a bad economic storm and protect them from potential raging unemployment, business failures, drying up retirement funds and frozen credit markets, said Thomas A. Foster, 68, of Southfield, Mich., a parishioner of St. Alexander Church in Farmington Hills, Mich.

"If there could possibly be a good effect from this mess, I'd say it's that it seems to have gotten more people involved in the political process," Foster, an Independent, told Catholic News Service Oct. 3. "So, that is a good thing."

Though Sean Ballard of Baldwin, Md., is pleased U.S. citizens are giving the candidates a more thorough examination, the 51-year-old Republican parishioner of St. Matthew Church in Baltimore fears voters will zoom in on just the economy when casting their ballot Nov. 4.

"This does look like it's becoming a single-issue election," said Perry, a Republican who lives in a predominantly Republican New Jersey community. "This is a pretty small town where most people know their neighbors, and I've recently seen a lot of Obama signs go up on the lawns of people I know are Republicans. It's been interesting to see how fast this all came about."

The economy may have been on a down cycle for the past several months, but the recent failure of major financial institutions and the resulting credit crunch created havoc on Wall Street and moved President George W. Bush to tell Congress and the American public the federal government needed an unprecedented amount of cash to stabilize the markets.

Bush predicted that without federal intervention there would be grave economic consequences, which he said could result in a painful recession with stifling unemployment.

Both presidential nominees -- Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain -- voted in favor of the largest bailout of financial institutions since the Great Depression, but national polls have indicated support is shifting in Obama's favor and that a majority of Americans believe the Democrats have a stronger economic plan.

The Republican administration that has been in power for the past seven-plus years has been blamed by many political pundits for the economic crisis, and Obama has taken ample opportunity to link McCain to the Bush policies.

But, neither candidate has yet to come forward with a specific proposal on the economy in light of the crisis.

"I think that folks will vote Democrat, thinking that a Republican caused this, which I do not agree with," said Ballard, who said she too is considering casting her ballot for Obama.

"People also adopt this 'get-rid-of-the-bums' fever when something like this comes up," Perry told CNS. "That won't help McCain."

Political observers believe the financial-rescue package initially failed in the House of Representatives Sept. 29 because all those members of Congress who are not vacating their seats are up for re-election Nov. 4 and many feared reprisal in the voting booth by angry constituents who voiced their opposition to the measure.

The New York Stock Exchange plummeted that day by 777 points.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill Oct. 1 and when the House voted Oct. 3 on the updated version of the legislation -- complete with tax breaks designed to make the proposal more appetizing to queasy House members -- it passed 263-171, a comfortable margin that was 58 more votes than the measure garnered the first time around. The president swiftly signed the bill into law.

Though Foster admitted he isn't happy that taxpayers will be responsible for a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, he feared an all-out collapse of the U.S. economy without the action.

"I am concerned that if this does not work, the dollar will continue to be devalued and that will make the situation worse a year from now," said Ballard, a human resources professional. "The housing market must start to recover for Wall Street to be sustained, as well as the consumer confidence in terms of spending for cars, electronics, etc."


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