University at Albany

Students React to First Presidential Debate

Over 60 UAlbany political science, public policy and communication undergraduates gathered in Social Sciences 255 and 256 on the uptown campus Wednesday night to watch the first of three presidential debates between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. After the debate a number of students stayed to discuss their reactions to the candidates’ comments. (Read what they had to say below.)

View photos from the debate

The Debate Watch was sponsored by the Rockefeller College Dean’s Leadership Council, the College Democrats, Pi Sigma Alpha (the National Political Science Honor Society), and the Department of Communication.
Three more debate watches are scheduled to take place in SS 255-256 from 8:45 to 10:30pm on the following dates:

Thursday, October 11
Vice presidential debate
Centre College, Danville, KY
Moderator: Martha Raddatz, Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent, ABC News
Tuesday, October 16
Second presidential debate (town meeting format)
Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
Moderator: Candy Crowley, Chief Political Correspondent, CNN and Anchor, CNN's State of the Union
Monday, October 22
Third presidential debate
Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL
Moderator:  Bob Schieffer, Chief Washington Correspondent, CBS News and Moderator, Face the Nation

What students had to say about the debate:

Question:  What did you think of the debate?

(Left to right) Oneil McCaulsky and
Sami Bouki
Meghan:  I thought the debate was highly policy-specific and perhaps too technical for the average voter.  I also thought it would be very confusing for the average voter because a lot of it was back and forth about Romney saying what Obama’s plan is and Obama saying what Romney’s plan is, rather than them debating what they think should happen.  They were debating the facts.  I do think there were some clear points where they were able to demonstrate the choice and the differences between the two candidates, specifically on Medicare and healthcare issues. The tax conversation got very muddled in my opinion.  I don’t think there was a winner.  No one really made any big gaffes. No one made any glaring mistakes.  So I don’t think that this debate in particular will move the polls. I do think that Romney was able to be more clear and concise in his plans, however.  I‘ll be interested to see the fact checking that comes out after this because there were a lot of things that I heard tonight that were contradictory to past statements.
Oneil:  Romney was very nervous. I believe Obama connected more with the middle class that he was trying to target.  If you look at what he said, he always used a contrast that was very close to the middle class ─ his grandmother and Medicare, the lady who was worried about her kid going to college.  Also he focused on the battle ground states.  Every single person that he talked about other than his grandmother was from a battle ground state.
Andrew:  I think Romney dominated and exceeded expectations. The last few weeks have been so bad for him.  I think it might help him.  At the same time, I think we had a terrible moderator who didn’t ask specifics.
Sami Bouki:  I can’t agree and say that Romney did a good job.  I was struck by how many times he was disrespectful during the debate, either walking over the moderator or Obama, especially the moderator.
Oneil:  Obama is right.  Romney never explained his true plans. He said, “Let the states take care of it.” If you look at all the states in the Union, the poorest 10 states are Republican-led. Why is that possible?  Those states keep voting Republican and they’re always at the bottom.
Ethan:  It’s not in Romney’s best interest to tell you specifics because then you can’t attack him. His power in the debate was that fact that he could attack the president’s statement and not have to respond to anything that was negative.  He never has to go to that defensive mode.  Strategically that’s what he had to do.
Oneil:  A month before election, you have to start saying specifics. If you don’t, people are going to think you really don’t have a plan.
Sami:  The other problem is that Romney is a little closer to the center than the bigger part of his base, which is more radical right.  If he speaks his true mind and starts to sound more like a centrist, he’s going to aggravate a huge part of his base.
Ethan:  Every single time, Obama tried to attack Romney on an actual specific, he responded to it with a counter-specific.  So you say that he’s not giving specifics, but he was able to defend the ones that he was attacked on.
(Left to right) Rockefeller Associate Dean
of Undergraduate Education Anne Hildreth,
Ethan Morrissey, Amaury Munoz, and
Professor Michael Malbin

Question: Governor Romney was very critical of the president’s domestic policies on unemployment, the deficit, healthcare, and energy.  Yet it appears with only a month to go until Election Day, the president is doing well in the battle ground states. What do you think accounts for this?

Andrew:  In some of the swing states, like Ohio, the economy has come back a little, and there’s the popularity of the auto bailout.  A lot it too is that the campaigns have shaped popular opinion.  For example, the Obama campaign really defined Romney before Romney defined himself ─ Bain Capital, off-shore tax havens.  You have to think that’s why Obama is ahead.  He’s facing a weak opponent, especially after coming out of that clown show Republican primary where you couldn’t believe some of the things they were saying.
Sami:  I honestly have no idea when the tide shifted. Over the summer, the news kept talking about Romney as this big challenger and that he was getting these leads.  And then all of a sudden it just flipped.  I don’t know what to think. It’s just incredible.
Oneil:  No president in American history has ever been re-elected with unemployment at 8.2%. None. There should have been no excuse for Romney not to be leading.  But I believe it’s because his own base doesn’t believe Romney is a true Conservative.  And that‘s the problem Romney has been struggling with.  The fact is Romney’s really not a true conservative.  He’s more of a moderate.  I don’t believe the true Republican-Conservative base is really into Romney. That’s why he’s struggling.  Obama is not really doing that great of a job where it shouldn’t be tighter.  Romney could have really pushed on this whole issue of Solyndra because Obama didn’t answer that; he dodged it.  He dodged all of those questions. That was a big flop.  Romney shouldn’t have gone so far to the right in the primaries.  When you try to come back to the middle for the general election, people are going to say you’re a flip-flopper.  And he doesn’t want to do that.  That’s the main problem he’s facing. It’s not that he isn’t a good candidate; he went too far to get the nomination.

The students we spoke to were:

  • Meghan Nyman, Senior, Public Policy, Oswego, NY
  • Oneil McCaulsky, Junior, Political Science, Jamaica
  • Andrew Abramowitz, Senior, Political Science, Long Island
  • Sami Boukai, Senior, Political Science, New York City
  • Ethan Morrissey, Senior, Political Science, Perry, NY