Herald/DAVID MORRIS - Elwood Smith, representing Republican presidential candidate John McCain, addresses a group of Central Texas College students during a mock forum Tuesday afternoon at the college in Killeen.

By Sheena Williams

Killeen Daily Herald

With a red-striped Obama pin fastened to her sweater and her old Army assault pack filled with books and classwork, Keara Finchum headed to Central Texas College's Presidential Forum, conducted in one of the college's amphitheater-styled classrooms on Tuesday.

The nurse has already voted for the Democratic candidate but said she is still interested in the issues as she sat perched on one of the classroom's upper-level desks.

Aisles quickly filled as unoccupied seats became scarce. It was "standing room only" as the forum started off with supporters for both parties introducing themselves, their candidates and the points of interest for their campaign.

Barack Obama's stance was represented by Jimmy Carroll, a general counselor for Scott & White Hospital and Republican John McCain's views were expressed by Elwood Smith, the owner of Paper Graphics Printing.

The two have known each other for years. Smith jokingly said if he had known in advance who he would be up against, he may have gracefully bowed out of defending his candidate during the debate.

"I've known Elwood Smith so long. I knew him when he was still a Democrat," Carroll said, which roused a roar of laughter from the crowd of students and faculty.

Both supporters presented their sides the best way they could – by drawing from their past experiences. Smith explained the hardships of cultivating a small business while being burdened with profit-draining taxes, which could be a lasting problem for him if Obama is elected president, he said.

"Obama's plan for redistributing the wealth is about taking from the rich and giving to the poor, and that sounds pretty good unless you're rich. When they say 'rich,' I get a mental picture of somebody on a yacht or something, but in this taxing of people who make over $250,000 there are thousands and thousands of small businesses. And since I own a small business, I can tell you that taxes can kill a small business," Smith said.

"In 1972, I started a business and it was tough and we put our lives into this business. We needed capital so we sold our house. We needed some more capital so we sold our cars. We've come a long way since 1972, so when they start talking about taxing the rich, they're talking about my life and the work my family and I have dedicated to this life."

His work as a retired judge and history teacher helped Carroll explain his view on why America's economy couldn't withstand another George Bush at the reins of America's purse strings.

"I remember, in our history studies, reading a book about the times of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from 1932 to 1944 and the name of the book was 'No Ordinary Time.' It was a time they describe in history as having one-third of the country ill-housed, ill-fed and ill-clad and the people of the United States voted for change in 1932 when they elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt," Carroll said.

"He said one of the greatest lines: 'Do something. If it works, do it longer. If it doesn't work, do something else. But we must do something.' He was the man who was ready for change and those were no ordinary times.

"Today we face a similar deal, and I don't think it's as bad but when you think about people losing 30 to 40 percent of their pension plans for the future in two weeks, in a stock market meltdown, remind yourselves that the same group that is advising Senator McCain today was advising President Bush."

A question-and-answer portion followed the debate. Finchum, a mother of one, posed a question to both supporters about their candidate's opinions on the No Child Left Behind Act. The forum allowed her to gauge different perspectives, which Finchum said was an interesting and informative experience.

"I think things like this are very important for the military family community because I really want to know who is going to end the war and who cares about me and cares about what's going on in my life," said the military spouse, whose husband is deployed to Iraq.

"I think it's kind of interesting that the school is having this, and I think a lot of people are very opinionated, but I'm a very open person. Even though I've already voted, I still listen to the news and stay updated because things are always changing and I want to be informed."

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