Snarky comments, indignant looks and laughter abounded at the Cornell Democrats’ viewing of Wednesday night’s presidential debate between Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.
As the candidates squared off, a majority of the two dozen people crammed into the small living room stared intently at the television screen, munching on Cheetos and occasionally glancing at their smartphone keyboards for a quick tweet about the proceedings. Sometimes, topics on the screen were apparently so incendiary that fervent, hushed discussion broke out.
No official viewing event was held by the Cornell Republicans, though this did not preclude members of that organization from forming their own sharply held beliefs about the debate.
“I think Romney won the debate by a landslide. He was able to respond directly to the questions, and he gave specific examples with each of his answers,” said Jess Reif ’14, chair of the Cornell Republicans. “I feel like Obama relied on ideology more than evidence to support his conclusions.”
The Cornell Democrats, meanwhile, also responded to many of Romney’s answers with contempt and, often, sarcasm.
As the two candidates started off the debate by crossing the stage and shaking hands, parallel in tall suits, red tie meeting blue tie, laughter broke out and one Cornell Democrat described the encounter as “super awkward.” That adjective resurfaced again and again about interactions between the candidates.
Director of Public Relations for the Cornell Democrats Max Schechter ‘14 explained why the onstage interactions between the candidates seemed disingenuous at times.
“Clearly, these two guys spend 24 hours a day explaining why the other shouldn’t be president, and then they had to pretend just for a moment that they were friends,” Schechter said. “It just seemed very forced.”
Members of the Cornell Democrats also defended Obama when criticized criticized for not pushing Congress enough to cut the deficit. “He did! He did!” one said in response.
Romney's references to lower income Americans was the subject of snickers, with comments ranging from “I love it when he says ‘poor’” to “you don't know what poor is.”
The moderator’s attempt to curtail the candidates’ at times long-winded answers was the subject of laughter that ricocheted around the room.
Matt Clauson ’15 said many of the discussion questions began in a similar way by asking about fundamental differences between the two candidates. In response to the moderator’s concluding statement, “I’m Jim Lehrer, thank you,” one member of the crowd responded, “I'm Jim Lehrer, and I'm terrible at my job.”
Although Obama’s statements tended to be greeted by the crowd enthusiastically, the sentiment ran particularly high when the presidential candidate referenced land grant colleges — of which Cornell is home to several.
When Obama called the debate “terrific,” people shook their heads, with one remarking that it was instead “a disaster.”
Schechter ‘14 described the reactions of his fellow Democrats as ranging “from happy to see President Obama onstage defending policies we care about like Obamacare, to disappointed that he didn’t call Romney out on some things [Romney] said that were less than factual.”
“I’d be surprised if this has much of an impact, although any presidential debate does have the potential for a big impact,” Schechter said. “I think that both performed well. Expectations are higher for the president, so a tie kind of seems like a loss for him.”
Alex Pruce ’13, first vice chair of the Cornell Republicans, did not characterize the debate as a tie. He said Romney “clearly won.”
“Romney’s body language and tone were key to why he came off as engaging. He channeled the frustration of millions of Americans, whereas Obama seemed tired and disengaged,” Pruce said.
Sylvia Rusnak contributed reporting to this article.