For the first time in recent memory, the Georgetown chapters of the College Democrats and College Republicans hosted a presidential debate-watching party together. The two groups came together in Lohrfink Auditorium Wednesday night to experience and discuss the event that would become the most tweeted political event in U.S. history.
In the opening sequence of the debate, the crowd started chanting “Obama! Obama!” at 9 p.m.. Debate moderator Jim Lehrer gave an opening statement, expressing that the discussion of the night would focus on on domestic issues. It was not long before the Georgetown students began interjecting their praise and criticism of each candidate’s responses.
In regard to the audience members, Chair of the College Republicans Maggie Cleary (COL ’14) called it “very respectful.”
“There wasn’t really any cheering or shouting,” she said. “That being said, even though we can be bi-partisan during debates, we can’t really be bi-partisan on election night. We’ll be in different places on election night, but it’s nice to share venues for a debate.”
The event drew a large crowd, filling almost every seat in Lohrfink. The audience reacted to compelling points made by the candidates and, as expected, any mention of student loans and the increasing difficulty for graduates to secure a job after college.
One comment Mitt Romney made really riled the crowd. “What we’re seeing now is a trickle-down government approach that believes it can do better than individual people pursuing their dreams,” he said. “The path we’re taking is not working: its time for a new path,” he said. Both candidates also claimed they do not intend to make any cuts to student loans, pleasing both ideological sets in the Lohrfink audience.
In reference to rising college student expenses, President Obama said, “we lowered and plan to keep low interest rates on student loans. It’s how we’re going to grow this economy over the long term.” For President Obama, he has four years of experience to defend his claim. Governor Romney, on the other hand, has years of experience working in Massachusetts, the state with the number one rated school system. After the debate, however, President of the College Democrats Joe Vandegriff (COL ’14) said he “can’t think of one Republican initiative that directly helps young people.”
Both Vandegriff and Cleary believed the candidates performed well and the bi-partisan event was a good way to bring together both viewpoints. “I thought the attendance was phenomenal and the debate was a very good back and forth,” Vandegriff said. “I was sitting next to the entire row of Republicans, but I thought overall it was Democratic. I didn’t expect it to be too ruckus. Obviously Georgetown is a political school, but you don’t get that radical that you tend to see at other schools. I expected the enthusiasm to be where it was at.”
Cleary had slightly different expectations for the evening. “Honestly, I thought they were a little less crazy than I was expecting,” she said. “Because we usually have protestors at all of our events, so even having a huge group of Democrats could be seen as protesters viewing it in a different light, but they were very respectful. I think that may be in part to the introduction of the debate when they said that everyone should be silent, something that everyone in the audience would take to be a rule too. Maybe that’s why it went so well.”
For the remainder of the campaign season, both the College Democrats and the College Republicans have plans to further their party’s efforts. Because Georgetown is a tax-exempt university, student group funds cannot be used directly to endorse a candidate. Outside sources, however, can contribute funding and both student groups have organized trips to battleground areas in support of their preferred candidate.
In response to the potential magnitude of efforts, Vandegriff said, “We have a larger base and I think young Democrats are more enthusiastic than young Republicans. You can really get into social issues, which I was disappointed never came up in the debate. I think, for example, gay marriage is a defining issue of our generation.” He hopes this topic will be addressed at a forthcoming debate.
As for Republicans, Romney’s performance has provided a necessary confidence. “I thought the night went really well and hopefully we’ll see a spike in membership and a spike in the polls,” Clearly said. “That’s all I want.”
For the remaining three debates, the groups plan to hold bipartisan viewing events. The Vice Presidential debate watch is being held next week, Oct. 11, in the ICC auditorium.