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First election debate draws ND viewers

Kaitlynn Riely | Monday, September 29, 2008

The Coleman-Morse Lounge is usually deserted weekend nights, except for the presence perhaps of a few stalwart studiers, but last Friday the lounge was packed with Notre Dame students and some parents for the first presidential debate.

Similar scenes played out across campus in lounges and dorm rooms and throughout South Bend in apartments and houses, as students started off their weekends by tuning into the first matchup between Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain.

Jim Lehrer, PBS news anchor, moderated the debate. The first of three scheduled debates between the two candidates focused on foreign policy and national security – as well as questions about the financial crisis on Wall Street – and took place at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.

Lehrer asked the candidates to describe where they stood on the proposed financial recovery plan, whether there were fundamental differences between the two candidates’ approaches to relieving the financial crisis and what spending cuts the next president will be forced to make as a result of the proposed bailout.

The questions then turned to foreign policy, with Lehrer asking the candidates what they believed the lessons of Iraq were, whether more troops should be sent to Afghanistan, what threat Iran poses, their thoughts on Russia and what the candidates believed were the chances of another Sept. 11-type attack on American soil.

ND Votes ’08, a non-partisan campaign of the Center for Social Concerns, hosted the debate watch in Coleman-Morse.

Senior Mallory Laurel, a co-chair for ND Votes ’08, said she was “pleasantly surprised” by how many students took part in the group’s debate watch. Laurel said she thought Lehrer did a good job moderating the debate.

“I liked him. I think he lets the candidates speak,” she said. “He isn’t too pushy of a moderator.”

There was only slight vocal reaction from the group in Coleman-Morse to the candidates’ answers, but many people laughed each time Lehrer tried to encourage the candidates to banter back and forth and address each other, rather than the moderator, in their answers.

Freshman Nicole Burson, a McCain supporter, watched the debates at Coleman-Morse. Afterwards, she said both candidates did a good job answering the questions, but that McCain did a better job.

“I felt McCain’s parts were more substantial,” she said.

A few buildings away from the Coleman-Morse debate watch, the Notre Dame College Democrats rooted for Obama in the first floor television lounge of LaFortune, club co-president Spencer Howard said. Howard said the first floor of LaFortune was overwhelmed with Obama supporters.

“The local news actually showed up,” he said, “and were trying to find a McCain supporter and couldn’t find an interview.”

Howard said he thought Obama won the debate.

“He really handled himself well, especially on the economy,” he said. “He definitely held his own on foreign policy, which was supposed to be Sen. McCain’s strong point.”

The Notre Dame College Republicans had their own debate watch at club president Ed Yap’s apartment.

“I think [McCain] won this debate,” Yap said. “He showed how strong he is on foreign policy and how he would be the leader that leads us through this current war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and brings lasting peace to America.”

Yap said his apartment was crowded with McCain supporters, and also a few undecided voters. The crowd was enthusiastic, Yap said – they ran out of McCain-Palin stickers.

Two more presidential debates are scheduled, on Oct. 7 and Oct. 15.

ND Votes ’08 will host a debate watch for the vice presidential debate between Republican candidate Gov. Sarah Palin and Democratic candidate Sen. Joe Biden on Thursday at 9 p.m. in the Coleman-Morse Lounge.

The Notre Dame Debate Team will provide post-debate commentary in the lounge at 10:30 p.m., according to an e-mail from ND Votes ’08.