As President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney faced off Wednesday in the first of three presidential debates, a handful of people milled around the back room of the Warren County Democratic Party headquarters to watch the two candidates discuss their differences on domestic issues dominated by the economy.
It was a hastily assembled party – the cable was only hooked up at the Scottsville Road headquarters on Wednesday – but the viewers were enthusiastic, applauding when they heard something they liked and talking back to the television when they heard something they didn’t.
The reaction, however, to Obama’s performance in the Denver debate overall was not always as enthusiastic.
Jack Thomas, former president of Bowling Green Technical College, said he would like to see more dynamic performances from Obama in future debates. Obama should draw a stronger contrast between the stances that Romney has taken in the past and what he says during the debate when two next meet Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., he said.
“I think, you know, neither one of them hit a home run,” he said.
Thomas noted that Obama didn’t look at the camera for a large portion of the debate, keeping his eyes on the moderator instead, and missed opportunities to mention some of Romney’s missteps such as a comment recorded at a fundraiser about 47 percent of people not paying income taxes.
“He seemed somewhat disengaged, like he was someplace else,” he said.
While Romney was aggressive with questions, Thomas said Obama may have been trying to portray a different image to the American people. “He was trying to be presidential,” he said.
However, Thomas said he did like a lot of what he heard from Obama on the issue of education, especially his support for community and technical colleges. He was also glad to hear the president talk about policies such as “Race to the Top” and taking private lenders out of the student loan process.
Romanza Johnson, president of the Democratic Woman’s Club of Kentucky, said Obama did a good job of laying out some of the things he has accomplished during his term, but she wanted more specifics from both candidates.
“I think we’re always on the lookout for new plans, new goals, objectives he wants to accomplish in the future,” she said.
Those specifics should come out more in future debates and in the upcoming weeks of the campaign, Johnson said.
“It’s wonderful we live in a country where we can have debates such as this, and that we as citizens can watch programs like this to make up our own mind as to how we think we should vote,” she said.
Dr. Janice Bunch said she likes the idea that Obama put forward about saving medical costs through preventive care and does think that it’s important to reform the insurance industry as well as health care.
She said she was glad to hear Romney say his plans for health care include people with pre-existing conditions.
“But he did not give us specifics on what he would do,” Bunch said.
She believes it’s important to look at all options to provide better medical coverage whether from Republicans or Democrats.
For Scott Lasley, chairman of the Warren County Republican Party and an associate political science professor at Western Kentucky University, Wednesday night was a good one for Romney, who he said expressed himself aggressively and articulately.
“You could tell early on that he was ‘on,’ so to speak,” Lasley said.
It was important that Romney appealed to middle-class people during a campaign where Obama has tried to paint him as an upper-class citizen with rich people’s interests at heart, he said.
The economy is a big issue during this election, as it has been in the past, and Lasley said he thinks that emphasis on economic factors is a good thing for Romney.
“I think what’s clear is we can’t keep going on what we have,” he said.
State Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, said there was no doubt that Romney won the debate Wednesday night. “It looked like the president was just not prepared,” he said.
He was surprised that Obama didn’t bring up topics such as Romney’s “47 percent” quote during the debate, DeCesare said.
In contrast, Romney was on-message throughout the evening, in some cases laying out his goals point by point, he said.
Romney was also able to respond to Obama’s statements that a health care plan developed in Massachusetts while Romney was governor was the basis for the Affordable Care Act, DeCesare said. Romney made the point that such programs should be handled by the states.
Historically, challengers do better in the first presidential debate, and he expects the competition to get tougher, DeCesare said. It has, after all, been four years since Obama’s last debate and Romney had plenty of practice during the Republican primaries.
Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy, said many statements Romney made, such as his talk about working with a largely Democratic legislature in Massachusetts, were designed to appeal, not to his conservative base, but to swing voters.
“What they’re really after are the undecided middle,” he said.
He thought Romney did a good job of laying out a conservative taxing policy and making the president defend his policies, Waters said.