Light-hearted laughs and excitement abounded among the Cornell Democrats and Cornell Republicans at a joint viewing of the debate between Vice President Joe Biden (D) and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) Thursday night.
Over warm Coors Light, Insomnia cookies and oreos, upwards of 35 campus politicos, along with several members of the Ithaca College Republicans and the I.C. Democrats, huddled around a television to watch Biden and Ryan spar. With campaign posters plastered around the living room and the buzz of political chatter in the air, anticipation was rising before the debate began.
“I think Biden is a very good debater, generally, so I expect some really good things from him … I think we can expect [him] to be a lot more aggressive in this debate,” said Georgia Crowther ’14, director of fundraising and philanthropy for the Cornell Democrats, as she settled in to watch. “I think he’ll amplify that to make up for Obama’s last debate performance.”
Others placed their bets on Ryan before the debate started.
“Paul Ryan is extremely articulate; I expect he’ll give Biden a run for his money,” said Jessica Reif ’14, chair of the Cornell Republicans. “I feel like Biden will try to run on the record of the Obama administration, which will be difficult for [Biden] because [Obama] doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”
As the two opponents took the stage, the hum of political debate hushed. Balanced upon the arms of couches and crowding the floor, all viewers’ fixed on the television screen, diverting their gazes only to chuckle or make the occasional exclamation.
Laughs were frequent and unbridled, especially following the candidates’ smug grins and mocking snickers in response to their opponent’s statements. Ryan’s jab at Biden’s seeming penchant for gaffe-making and Biden’s dig at Ryan — “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy” — were met with passionate “whoa!”s.
“Those were moments which kept people engaged and kind of kept things interesting — kind of like sparring,” said Jessica Palmer ’13, president of the Cornell Democrats.
After the debate, opinions were split among viewers, though affiliates of both political parties acknowledged that both debaters had strong performances.
Reif said she felt that Ryan was “very cool and collected” throughout the debate.
“I think he did a good job pointing out the failures of the Obama administration to address issues like unemployment,” she said.
Palmer noted that the two debaters had “very different” goals in mind, which influenced their respective strategies throughout the debate.
“Romney and Ryan have to stand [on] the platform of looking forward,” she said. “Biden and Obama have, in some ways, a more difficult job because they have a past record people can call them on. They have the goal of defending [that].”
Students split on Biden’s performance, with some praising the vice president for his no-holds-barred approach.
“I don’t think Biden was out of line … [he and Ryan] were having fun,” Palmer said.
Other students, including Alex Pruce ’13, vice chairman of the Cornell Republicans, said they found Biden’s demeanor rude.
“I think Ryan was more professional; I think you have to expect a better performance from your vice president in terms of manner and professionalism,” Pruce said. “While his rebukes may have been warranted, they were delivered poorly.”
Reif echoed Pruce’s sentiments, criticizing the vice president for his aggressive air in the debate.
“I think that Biden’s quite frankly rude demeanor is a disgrace to the entire debate process,” Reif said.
Although the two differed on their perception of the debaters’ performances, both Pruce and Palmer agreed that Thursday’s debate — like most presidential and vice presidential debates, they said — will have little effect on the presidential election.
Still, Palmer said Thursday’s debate likely helped to “re-energize the [Democratic] base.”
“[Biden] re-engaged the American voter, which is crucial right now,” she said.
Palmer added that, while the presidential debates came off as being “staged and cold,” Thursday’s debates showed the candidates in a “more honest, more likeable, more human” light.
“They were both interested in talking about the issues. Whether they were [being] serious or not, they were trying to make it engaging for the audience,” Palmer said. “Both Biden and Ryan made it clear that they care about the American people.”
Pruce added that he saw the lively debate as a “theatrical” one that effectively captured viewers’ attentions.
“They made it more personal, and they addressed issues in a way we relate to more than did Obama [or] Romney,” Pruce said. “I think it was much better than the first debate.”