Face-Off Changed Few Minds
There was applause, cheers and occasional snickering from Republicans and Democrats alike at the Kennedy School's ARCO Forum last night during a live showing of the New Hampshire GOP debate.
Student reaction to the six-candidate debate, broadcast on Fox News, was largely uniform: Most agreed that the discussion didn't really change the candidates' standings. However, it did provide some political entertainment and a chance for Bush to finally talk with his rivals.
The audience of more than 100 students, faculty and fellows at the Institute of Politics (IOP) was made of a considerably high ratio of Democrats, perhaps owing to the Harvard Republican Club's trip to Manchester to watch the debate.
Popcorn, drinks and the informal Forum setting invited audience reaction--mainly laughter at the candidates' comments.
George W. Bush received applause for his closing remarks about restoring honor to the White House, while McCain was greeted with cheering and laughter for joking about his oft-criticized anger and describing how he would prop up Alan Greenspan "like they did in 'Weekend at Bernie's'" if he passed away.
Alan L. Keyes, the conservative talk-show host, elicited the most laughter with his lively and passionate comments about racism and foreign policy. Steve Forbes' radical tax views also brought chuckles.
In his introduction to the debate, IOP Director and former Wyoming Senator Alan K. Simpson spoke about the nervousness and excitement surrounding such events.
"Debating is the bane and the blessing of a politician," he said.
Former Illinois Governor and IOP Fellow Jim Edgar, who also introduced the screening, said the perception of the press would actually prove more important than the debate itself.
Heather A. Woodruff '03, however, was happy to be able to view the debate herself.
"I think it's good to finally see all the candidates together so that voters see the actual candidates, not just what the media says," she said.
Sterling P.A. Darling '01 commented that Bush gave a good performance, but that there weren't any particular candidates who stood out. Although for entertainment value, "Keyes was the best," he said.
A Crimson/IOP straw poll taken after the debate revealed McCain to be the clear Republican favorite for the presidency, with 47 percent of the vote. Bush received only 17 percent.
McCain also came out as the winner of the debate, respondents said.
Members of the Harvard College Democrats clustered in the right corner of the room and handed out flyers about Governor Bush's policy decisions in conjunction with their "George W. Bush Education Campaign."
According to Marc Stad '01, president of the College Democrats, the purpose of the campaign is to let students know "what's at stake if you vote for Bush."
IOP Fellow Dan E. Lungren, also a former member of Congress and California attorney general, said the award for the most unexpected performance goes to Gary Bauer for his genuine remarks, but said Bush and McCain made the biggest gains in the debate.
"I don't think Forbes helped himself," Lungren said. Hatch, he said, "didn't move anyone."
And while the debate itself may not have moved most people, audience members were happy to see the candidates together, at last.