Thursday, October 14, 2004

DEBATE WATCH: THE FINAL ROUND

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Oct. 14, 2004


The final debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry changed few if any minds in the audience that watched the event at Santa Fe Community College Wednesday.

But, with the election less than three weeks away the passion levels of both sides seemed to be at full throttle.

Just like the previous debate-watching parties at the college during the past two weeks, about 100 people showed up.

Judging from comments made after the debate during a discussion broadcast on KSFR, 90.7 FM -- as well as crowd reactions during the debates -- Kerry supporters seemed to outnumber Bush voters, which isn’t surprising for a community in which Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans.

However, Republicans made a bigger show of force than they did at previous debates.

While there was some loud reaction to some speakers -- and toward the end of the night many Bush supporters walked out en mass on one speaker who was critical of Bush -- there was no moment as tense as last Friday when some audience members began shouting at former Republican Congressman Bill Redmond.

Local leaders of the two campaigns showed up to support their candidates.

Democrat John Pound, local chairman of the Kerry-Edwards campaign, said, “We’ve watched all four debates. I want you to ask yourself, who is the most intelligent? Who expresses the most wisdom.”

Pound’s conclusion was predictable.

Republican Bob Parmelee, county chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign, echoed Bush’s criticism of Kerry for calling the nations that helped the U.S. in the Iraq war “the coalition of the coerced and bribed.”

“What a way to build a coalition,” he said. Parmelee also blasted Kerry’s sister for going to Australia and backing a candidate who favored pulling that nation out of Iraq.

Parmelee said that nearly three fourths of soldiers in Iraq are backing Bush.

Phillip Chavez, a New Mexico National Guardsman who recently returned from serving eight months in Iraq, said sarcastically that he didn’t know the U.S. was losing the war until he got back home. Chavez said spirits are high among the troops in Iraq.

However Mary Jo Boyd, who said she was visiting from Texas, said many soldiers are afraid to express their true feelings against Bush and the war. “If my sons were drafted I’d tell them to be very careful about saying anything opposed to the president.

A man named Francis said, “Bush absolutely did not respond to the question about the minimum wage. He has no intention of raising the minimum wage from the dismal $5.15 an hour.”

But Leonard Rodriguez said, “Whether it’s $5.15 or $7 an hour, poor is poor. Education is what will change that.” He said Bush is stronger on education than Kerry.

Michael Rothberg prompted the Republican walk-out when he made a lengthy statement against Bush. Rothberg said his grandfather was a millionaire when he died, but he was glad that his family had to pay a 50 percent estate tax. He said Bush’s tax cuts didn’t help the economy because there is so little manufacturing in this country.

“Who benefited? China?” He said he would have rather have seen the money spent on tax cuts be used to build bridges because Americans, not Chinese, would be hired.

When Rothberg went on, one Bush supporter yelled, “Filbuster!” At that point several Bush backers began leaving.

Across town, singer-songwriter Carole King -- famous for songs such as “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Natural Woman,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” -- watched the debate with Democrats at Kerry-Edwards headquarters in Solana Center.

King, who has been campaigning for Kerry in several cities around the state this week, said in a telephone interview after the debate that Kerry is the first presidential candidate she’s campaigned for since Gary Hart in 1984.

“For the past three and a half years, I’ve felt the country has been going in the wrong direction and I’ve felt so frustrated and powerless, I decided I’d better get off my duff and support the man I know is so clearly a strong leader.”

She said she’s known Kerry for years. “I’m a resident of a rural community in Idaho called Custer County. It’s just over the hill from a vacation home owned by John and Teresa.”

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