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US elections

The woman Obama and Romney would both love to meet

Guy Adams meets Deb Vaughn, an undecided voter from Iowa

Deb Vaughn is a 50-year-old housewife, part-time accountant, and mother of six from just outside Cedar Rapids. And at this precise moment in history, she also happens to be one of the most powerful women in America.

Ms Vaughn owes her exalted status to the fact that her home town is in Iowa, one of the nine crucial swing states that will decide the outcome of tomorrow's election. And with just 24 hours to go, her precious vote remains up for grabs.

Each candidate has invested months of campaigning, and billions of dollars, into courting people like Ms Vaughn. At this critical stage, her still "undecided" status, and disillusionment with their sales pitch, should be a wake-up call to both major parties.

Like many Iowans, Ms Vaugn is a registered independent. She has voted in every election since turning 18, and over the years thrown her lot in with both Republicans and Democrats. But right now, after a relentlessly-negative campaign for her affection, she doesn't like either would-be president all that much.

Ms Vaughn calls herself a fiscal conservative. So she never liked Barack Obama's stated aim to "spread the wealth around". She was unwilling to back him in 2008, when he rode a heady wave of hope to the White House, and has since been unimpressed by both his stewardship of the US economy, and by the country's rising levels of debt.

"Then there's been all this Benghazi stuff," she says, referring to the recent death of America's ambassador to Libya. "We don't yet know what happens, and it bothers me a great deal. In fact it's more-or-less convinced me that I don't want Obama as commander-in-chief."

But Ms Vaughn's take on Mitt Romney is also highly-critical. As someone who likes to live and let live, she's uncomfortable with efforts by Republican lawmakers to peer behind her net curtains. And she's horrified to hear the party's Senate candidates argue that women can't get pregnant after being raped, or that if they do then it's part of "God's plan."

"The rape stuff really gets me. And it's hurt Mitt, in my eyes," she says. "It has highlighted the sad fact that there are still people in office who have that mentality, and they sit with the Republicans. As a woman, it makes me think twice about backing their presidential candidate."

Most of all, Ms Vaughn's floating voter status comes down to a question of character. Put simply, she's seen a lot of Obama and Romney in recent months. And she neither particularly likes, nor trusts, either of them.

"I've noticed recently that when Obama speaks, he looks disengaged. Like it's rote and he doesn't believe it," she says. "But I feel the same way about Mitt. He also seems aloof. I find it hard to feel that he's in touch with me, or knows anything about life in small-town Iowa. "

Also playing into her confusion is Romney's religion. Mormonism is seen as a cult by many evangelicals, and though Vaughn believes vehemently in religious freedom, she also worries about how it might affect the way he governs. "I think it would be impossible for him to just leave it at the door of the White House," she explains.

For election strategists, Ms Vaughn is tough to reach. She claims to ignore the attack adverts on TV, and bins all of the muck-raking leaflets that are still landing in her mailbox.

In 2008, she ended up backing a third-party libertarian candidate. This time, she says that if neither Obama nor Romney can convince her in the next 24 hours, she will probably do the same. But the battle for her suppor will go right down to the wire.

"In 2008, I made my mind up standing in line at the polling station," she says. "The way things are looking, that's probably what I'll do this time, too."