Categorized | Election 08, Debates

Theatergoers Gather at Cerrito Speakeasy for Vice-Presidential Debate

The audience at the Cerrito Speakeasy awaits the start of the debate

The audience at the Cerrito Speakeasy awaits the start of the debate

BY FERNANDO GALLO //

EL CERRITO, Calif. – Many of those in the mostly liberal crowd that gathered at the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater on Oct. 2 to watch the vice-presidential debate believed it would be the undoing of relatively unknown Republican Gov. Sarah Palin. But after she had battled Democratic Sen. Joe Biden for 90 minutes, some said that Palin not only exceeded expectations, but might have actually won some people over.

“People’s expectations of Sarah Palin were extremely low,” said viewer Michelle President. “Her ability to speak coherently on current events will boost the (Sen. John) McCain campaign.”

“The expectations were so ridiculously low that she had to exceed them,” said viewer Marc Kersten.

The highly-anticipated debate featured two candidates with drastically different backgrounds: Former lawyer Biden is one of the longest tenured members of the Senate, while former beauty queen Palin is only six years removed from being the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska and is in her second year as governor. During the debate she referenced the short amount of time she has had on the national stage.

“And how long have I been at this, like five weeks?” Palin said when asked about campaign promises. “So there hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve promised.”

A long line formed outside the theater well before the doors were scheduled to open at 5 p.m., and those who had come out to see the debate were divided about its potential impact.

“People are so partisan, it’s probably not going to make much of a difference,” said Dustin Monix.

Viewer Stephen Murphy disagreed.

“I think if Palin comes across great and Biden comes across terrible, I don’t see why this kind of see-saw couldn’t just completely and totally change,” he said.

The crowd that gathered to watch the debate in the two theaters at the Speakeasy was generally pro-Biden, and many of his responses drew applause and whistles of approval. The senator spent most of his time attacking McCain, criticizing his voting record and policies on taxes, health care and the economy.

“The middle class under John McCain’s tax proposal, 100 million families… they got not a single break in taxes,” Biden said. “(McCain) wants to add $300 billion in new tax cuts per year for corporate America and the very wealthy while giving virtually nothing to the middle class.”

Viewer Kristen, who declined to give her last name, said Biden’s knowledge of McCain’s record was extensive.

“He just could recite (McCain’s) voting record like no one I have ever seen, it was unbelievable,” she said. “He just really impressed me, and I haven’t been a Biden fan.”

When Palin went on the offensive concerning Sen. Barack Obama’s proposed health care plan, Biden slammed McCain’s own health care policy in which many Americans would receive a $5,000 tax credit to pay for their own health care plan.

“And then you’re going to have to replace a $12,000 (plan) – that’s the average cost of the plan you get through your employer… with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company. I call that the ultimate ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’” he said, lampooning an expensive infrastructure plan Palin reportedly first supported, then later opposed. The comment elicited thunderous applause and loud cheers from the Speakeasy crowd.

Palin tried to build upon her image as a self-proclaimed “hockey mom,” and referred to her family as being part of the middle class in America.

“Let’s commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again,” Palin said. “Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars.”

She also repeatedly talked about McCain’s qualifications for the presidency, and about his so-called “maverick” status in the Senate.

“We’re going to forge ahead with putting government back on the side of the people and making sure that our country comes first, putting obsessive partisanship aside,” Palin said. “That’s what John McCain has been known for in all these years: He has been the maverick, he has ruffled feathers.”

Many of Palin’s comments drew laughter and ridicule from the crowd. Her “shout-out” to a third grade class in Alaska drew howls from the audience, as did some of Biden’s reactions to his rival’s arguments.

“This is gonna’ be a pretty democratic, if not liberal, if not radical, crowd that’s going to come here to the Cerrito to see (the debate), so (laughter) could be expected,” said viewer Jan Probst. “I came to see (the debate) at the Cerrito somewhat for entertainment value.”

There were also a couple of significant gaffes by the governor, including a phrase in which she mixed up Main Street and Wall Street.

“It’s a toxic mess, really, on Main Street that’s affecting Wall Street,” Palin said.

Throughout the debate, the atmosphere inside the theater was relaxed. Spectators sat in large chairs or on spacious couches and watched the proceedings with a slice of pizza or a cold beer.

Despite what some said was a solid performance by the first-term governor, Kersten said he remained convinced that Palin was unfit to be one step away from the presidency.

“I don’t think any reasonable person could come to the conclusion, after watching that debate, that she’s in any way competent, experienced or ready to assume the office of the presidency,” he said.

The debate was the only meeting for the vice-presidential candidates, but Obama and McCain will face off once more on the national stage before Election Day on Nov. 4. The final presidential debate is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

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