Red, white and blue balloons adorned the Marvin Center’s Columbian Square Thursday night, transforming it into a political rallying space for the viewing of the first of three presidential debates.
About 500 Republican and Democratic students came together to watch the foreign policy debate between President Bush and his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry. GW Votes, an on-campus voter registration group, organized the party with cooperation from the College Republicans and College Democrats.
“Having the Republicans and Democrats come together is a wonderful expression of democracy in action,” said Liza Prendergast, the GW Democrats’ press relations director.
Justin Neidig, the College Republicans’ press secretary, agreed, saying, “I think (the party is) a great way for the campus to come together.”
Amid a flurry of campaign signs and posters, Democrats took their seats on the left side of the hall and Republicans settled in on the right side. As the 9 p.m. start of the debate approached, clashing cries of “four more years” and “no more Bush” resonated through the hall.
“The atmosphere here is awesome, energetic, and empowering,” freshman Carinna Scotti said.
“I’m excited to see (the candidates) debate side by side to compare them,” freshman Bush supporter Laura Graham said.
A team from ABC’s “Good Morning America” was also on hand to do a piece on student voters that aired Saturday at 8 a.m.
As PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer began questioning the two candidates, the crowd’s noise rose to a roar, and the 90-minute debate was marked by periods of strong applause. The debate focused on the conflict in Iraq, the war on terror, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and a number of other foreign relations topics.
After the debate, some students agreed with a number of national polls that suggested Kerry was the more convincing of the two debaters.
“Kerry was clearly the winner,” said freshman Karly Geers.
Freshman Jordan Evert said the president seemed unfocused and bothered as he sought to rebut Kerry’s charges that the Bush administration has pursued a go-it-alone policy in Iraq.
“I was disappointed Bush didn’t take many opportunities to attack the several flaws in Kerry’s message,” he said. “I thought Bush had no reason to be agitated.”
Some students stood by the president’s performance.
“I don’t think either candidate made their stance on the issues very clear,” said freshman Amy Czarnecki, who added that she thought Bush scored more debate points than Kerry.
Freshman Andrew Degran said he was pleased with the president’s performance.
“I think this debate party shows that GW has an equally strong Republican support party here on campus,” he said.
After the crowd of students began to leave, organizers said the party was a success.
“I think it was really a great event,” Neidig said. “We had an excellent balance of students from both parties and we all had a great time.”