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James Camner Headshot

Watching in NJ, Is That Palin Or Tina Fey?

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Our debate party took place at the house of our friends Stephen and Alexandra in Princeton, NJ. There were eight of us watching the debate.

The education level at our party was pretty high: we included a PhD in Literature, a top ranking professor at Princeton in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a Rabbi, the former head of the University's Hillel and currently a professor in Religious Studies there. Several of us were currently or past community leaders and activists. My wife Connie was formerly on the Township Committee of a neighboring town and at one time headed a community service council affiliated with the local United Way. Our friend Barbara was a political writer on the local paper and an organizer of the fabulous new community library.

Everyone focused intently on the debate. Admittedly we were all fiercely partisan in favor of Biden: four of us, myself included, are actively campaigning both through canvassing door-to-door (mainly in Pennsylvania since NJ is not "in play") and phone banking. Our friend Ruth, who had lived for many years on an Israeli Kibbutz and who is extremely well-informed (she reads Israeli papers in Hebrew), spends most afternoons at the local campaign headquarters. [The Princeton Democratic Office is a very dynamic and active place, and in partnership with Mercer County for Obama, is co-coordinating what appear to be many hundreds of volunteers.]

Reaction was strong and vocal throughout the debate. We guffawed when Sarah Palin actually said she wouldn't answer the questions. Her global warming answer brought howls of derision as did her gaffe about "General McClellan," her comment about McCain's "passion for diplomacy" and her colloquialisms: "You bet ya!" "back ye up there." We all groaned when she insensitively claimed that Joe Biden's wife's "reward is in heaven." Ruth felt it was very one-sided in favor of Biden, and Barbara exclaimed of Palin's scripted and robotic answers, "I can't believe what I was hearing." And of Biden's smooth and genial performance: "I love the Obama campaign and their superb discipline."

We applauded Biden's zinger about the "bridge to nowhere" and thought his "understand" moment was great. We all really liked his closing statement. We were a little uneasy that Palin never imploded as some anticipated, and worried that her feisty high energy would cause people to claim she won. Certainly we were disgusted with David Brooks's pronouncements about her performance, nor were we happy with Mark Shields's equivocations, although he did properly note that no one at such a debate had ever used such lowbrow colloquialisms. Switching to MSNBC, we were delighted with Rachel Maddow's take and booed Patrick Buchanan's extremely biased view that Palin was "spectacular".

The debate didn't change our minds nor were there any differences in any of our reactions, whether male, female, older or younger.

This was our second debate party, as many of us had gotten together for the first Obama-McCain debate. As at that debate, we were worried by the initial reactions of the pundits, who always seem to get it wrong. As I'm writing this, polls are apparently showing an overwhelming reaction in favor of Biden. For myself, I couldn't get the idea out of my mind that I was watching Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin.