With giggles and groans, students weigh in as candidates spar

Presidential debate draws campus crowds

Election 2004

Presidential debates

October 01, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Many of the University of Maryland students here who watched the presidential debate last night came for extra credit. The rest seemingly came for entertainment.

Although students were encouraged to leave their politics at the door, they repeatedly chuckled at President Bush's comments and chortled at Sen. John Kerry as the two candidates discussed homeland security and foreign policy.

"He was funny, he didn't know what to say," Megan deMagnus, a freshman from Silver Spring, said of Bush. "He couldn't back up anything he said with examples."

The forum was sponsored by the university's Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership and the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonprofit group in Washington.

All of the nearly 300 students who crammed into a hot classroom had to fill out surveys about their impressions of the candidates' performances. The results will be compiled by the commission and released in the next few days.

Several hundred other University of Maryland students also watched at the student union. There were also informal debate watching forums at the University of Baltimore, the Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College, among others.

Before the College Park event, Shawn Parry-Giles, the director of the center and an associate professor of communications, estimated that students were evenly split between Bush and Kerry or were undecided.

Some students were also clearly uninterested. After handing in their extra-credit slips, some began instant messaging or whispering to their friends.

But the most vocal students last night were against Bush, especially early in the debate. They laughed during Bush's first response, when he thanked the University of Miami for hosting the event. There were giggles when Bush mispronounced a name or paused for more than a few moments.

Many students also seemed annoyed by Bush's repetitiveness, especially when he accused Kerry of sending mixed messages. Bush is "saying the same thing over and over again," muttered one student.

The most uproarious laughs came when Bush said he believed he would win the election.

Bush supporters said they thought the president was effective, even when they said his speaking skills seemed less than polished.

"Bush was more personable in some respects. I think he stepped up to the plate," said Delia Cox, a junior from Boston.

But the students were not particularly pro-Kerry. When the senator said he would defeat and kill the terrorists, many chuckled. And when he launched into an attack of Bush's decision to launch a war in Iraq, there was stony silence in the classroom.

After the debates, many students said Kerry did a better job but they hardly seemed convinced that he would make a better president.

"Bush clearly appeals to American's patriotism and pride. Overall, however, I think Kerry has had strong, consistent and valid points. He has done well in saying and clarifying his differences from Bush," junior Kim Ricker said.

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