ALBUQUERQUE, NM - "Well, Sarah Palin didn't vomit or fall off the stage, so I guess she did okay," said Albuquerque vice presidential debate watcher Turtle O'Toole following Thursday's face off. "But, seriously, the bar was set so low for her from her other public outings coming into this debate, I don't know how she could have failed otherwise."
Maybe, if she showed up drunk and nude... but she didn't. So, the "Palin-did-okay-spoke-in-complete-sentences-just-not-in-complete-words" sentiment was pretty much the general consensus nutshell from a group of approximately 25 New Mexicans watching the road to the White House show down between candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. The decent cross-section of varied viewers (ranging in age from about 20 to 60, black, white, Hispanic, native, gay, straight and whatever else floats a boat) hunkered down at Albuquerque's Sunshine Café with Sierra Nevadas, merlots and artichoke dip at hand. The crowd was 50/50 men and women, appeared professional and middle-to-upper class.
It was also an honest crowd. Several 'fessed up they weren't watching the debate for the content substance value, but rather for the anticipated entertainment/freak show value.
"I think it's going to be fun and very entertaining," admitted Albuquerque resident Michele Mullen before the VP word war commenced. "That's what I came here for, the fun. It's not going to be educational."
Judging by the crowd's reactions - fun it was. There was no shortage within the guffaw factor. Lots of laughter floated around the room throughout the course of the evening. However, while debate watchers clearly laughed with Biden, the also blatantly laughed at Palin. One particular hilarity highlight went down when Palin referred to her opponent as O'Biden.
"Huh? He's Irish?" chuckled Jill Gatwood.
Next, the insults and condescending comments peppered with pseudo Irish accents started flying at the TV screen.
Others thought perhaps Palin was offering a bit of Hollywood to the Obama/Biden camp.
"What the.... O'Biden?" questioned Anna Lucero. "Is that supposed to be like 'Bennifer' or "Bradgelina' or something? Obama and Biden, O'Biden?
Then, there was the lesbian couple who nearly soiled themselves laughing so hard while listening to Palin's stance on gay marriage. They followed up with some serious PDA in deliberate response and rebuttal.
"We were laughing at the rhetoric of her words," explained Samantha Tetangco, cozied up next to her partner Randi Beck. "Palin said I straight up don't believe in gay marriage."
Furthermore, the crowd almost collectively fell off their chairs and chocked on their hummus and pita chips with Biden's soon-to-be infamous "I call that the ultimate Bridge to Nowhere" statement during the exchange on McCain's healthcare plan. Much hooting and holler ensued.
After a while, smiles turned to scoffs with Palin's barrage of oh-so way over done folksy colloquialisms and Fargo-esque accent - that seemed to be turned up a notch particularly for the debate.
"Oh God, she is so fcking annoying," said Gatwood.
"Wait a second, I thought we were supposed to be watching the debates, not the movie Fargo... where am I, help me, I'm lost, dazed and confused" joked Tomas Garcia.
And, while there were definitely some golden comedic gems during Thursday's debate, many said the point-and-laugh factor just wasn't as prevalent as they had hoped. It didn't turn out to be the train wreck they were expecting, or at least there were no major casualties.
Kicks and giggles aside, many agreed Biden's thirty-five years of experience debating on the Senate floor was clearly apparent. He came across as very presidential. Several noted the veteran Senator has been prepping for this debate for decades, while Palin started cramming with her assumingly patient handlers a mere couple of weeks ago. However, debate watchers did give Palin props saying she didn't seem intimidated by the Senator from Delaware who is also one of the most seasoned debaters on the Senate floor.
"I don't think there was a winner or a loser," concluded Gatwood. "I was surprised at how articulate Palin was. But, I think they got the questions beforehand. I'd like to know how they feel from their heart and soul."
"Both candidates exceeded my expectations," added Peri Pakroo. "There wasn't a lot of stumbling."
"I think the republicans will benefit by this and the democrats won't be damaged by it," surmised Ben Adams.
Overall, the vibe was nobody swayed on changing their vote one way or another. They concurred that this election is vitally important to the country in terms of domestic and foreign policy issues, health care, rising unemployment rates, and the ongoing war in Iraq. The vocal majority said they were going to vote for Obama. In fact, while this reporter offered a blanket invitation to the group to contribute to this story, not a single Team McCain/Palin person stepped forward or voiced an opinion. The gathering was advertised as nonpartisan.
That said, everyone handing over their two cents felt Biden was the clear winner. The local "Joe Six Packs" and "soccer moms" following this campaign indicated they're fed up with the folksy colloquiums and the Palin's PH d. in the art of the no answer. All in all, debate watchers said it insulted their intelligence.
"Biden went to his strengths, he was straight forward, clear and concise on the issues and demonstrated not just a general knowledge but a sincere understanding," said O'Toole. "Palin didn't make her presentation on the issues particularly interesting for me. There was a lot of talking points, rhetoric, and generalities. It is irreprehensible to me that a presidential candidate would chose someone so green to represent this country as a vice president."