WATCH PARTY AT THE CAROLINA ALE HOUSE IN DURHAM, NC
We’re in a side room at the Carolina Ale House, where it’s obvious something political is about to take place. People are taking pictures with life-size cardboard cutouts of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Red, white and blue balloons are tied to the welcome table where there are a bunch of blue cards with early voting information on them. Everyone has name tags and settles in to a seat. There are flour flat screen televisions hanging from the ceiling all tuned to MSNBC, captioning on but not loud enough to hear it.
I’m at the Vice Presidential Debate watch party in Durham organized by Obama supporters.
Right now, there are roughly 20 people here. The room is about half full. There is light chatter, and people are enjoying a beer and food.
The lead Obama supporter for the event introduces herself and talks about the start of early voting. The first sign of enthusiasm from the crowd comes at the end of her speech. They clapped and gave a mildly loud shout of excitement for what is to come.
The debate begins. Martha Raddatz is moderating. She talks for about 10 seconds before the room of Obama supporters even notices that the debate has begun. Then, they clap and the room quiets down. The TV volume is adjusted higher.
They welcome Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan to the stage. The crowd in the room claps loudly with visible excitement as they settle in to their seats for the 90 minutes ahead.
The first question is on foreign policy. Was the attack on the consulate in Benghazi an intelligence failure? Biden sounds stern in his answer “we will find those responsible…”
Dull “boo’s” fill the room as Ryan talks about the Obama administration blaming a youtube video.
Ryan’s delivery is firm and serious. Biden’s demeanor is very different. He seems a little more light-hearted and keeps smiling. He interrupts Ryan and the moderator, which would set the tone for the rest of the debate.
The moderator says there is no bigger national security issue than Iran. The question: How effective will a military strike be?
Ryan accuses the Obama administration for its watered-down sanctions. Biden questions whether Ryan’s camp will be able to have the world allied with them, countries like Russia, if they get rid of those sanctions. The crowd is quiet and listening intently.
An impassioned Biden says they will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. Ryan wanted to look at the issue from the perspective of the ayatollahs to further make his point that water-down sanctions are only making it easier to move toward nuclear weapons. Lots of sighs came from the crowd in the room, as if they were dismissing his comments.
Three latecomers arrived and are signing in. The room is filling up and people are eating and listening intently. There are probably 30-35 people in the room, all the tables are mostly full. As I look around the room, people are nodding their heads in agreement with Biden.
Biden says Iran is totally isolated today, and thank heavens these sanctions are in place. He says war should always be the last resort. Meanwhile, Ryan the worst thing that can happen is a nuclear-armed Iran and they are the worst terrorist threat.
The moderator turns to a new topic, the state of our economy and how soon the candidates could get the unemployment rate below 6%. In her remarks, she mentioned the recent report that unemployment fell below 8% for the first time in 43 months. Those comments get a big applause from the crowd.
Getting relief to the middle class is the heart of Biden’s remarks. He seemed confident he and Obama can get the unemployment rate below 6%. The energy in his voice continues to grow as he makes the point that the middle class is paying more in taxes than Romney. He said that instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, we’re going to level the playing field. He talked about “hemorrhaging tax cuts for the superwealthy.”
These comments from Biden get the crowd really excited, with lots of clapping, nodding and shouting in agreement. Biden keeps refuting Ryan’s comments that the situation has worsened in small communities like Janesville Wisconsin where he grew up. Ryan says the 8% unemployment rate is not what real recovery looks like in these communities where lots of people are still out of work, and growth is at about 1%. Ryan follows these remarks with mention of the Romney/Ryan 5-point plan to spur jobs. He says we can’t raise taxes on small business because they are the job creators. The room laughs at the five-point plan.
The exchange between Ryan and Biden is getting heated.
Video: The crowd is entertained by exchange on ability to work bipartisanly on lowering taxes.
I notice the moderator’s question is still up on the screen, and I am not sure Biden nor Ryan are answering the question. Can you get unemployment to under 6% and how quickly can you do it?
Ryan makes a low blow at Biden saying “the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t always come out of your mouth the right way.” The room seems to get angry and irritated by Ryan’s remarks.
Biden’s cadence in his remarks is fueling the crowd in the room. The crowd gets energized when Biden talks about restoring America and the middle class. He repeats the phrase “if they’d get out of the way” to get the real work done, to pass the tax cut for the middle class, make it permanent, pass the jobs bill let people stay in their homes. The crowd goes crazy when Biden tells Ryan to stop talking about how he cares about the people. He wants Ryan to show him something, show him a policy, show him the details and take responsibility.
The moderator asks again when can you get the unemployment rate below 6%? Ryan says that’s the premise of their entire economic plan.
Video: Moderator asks for specifics on how Ryan will pay for 20% tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics?
This marks the moment when the crowd was most animated and energized. Biden shuts down Ryan when he says he has two letters on his website from Ryan, who wanted stimulus money for the state of Wisconsin. The same person who had been against the stimulus. Biden says he wishes Ryan would be a little more candid. Lots of excitement in the room as Ryan just smiles without a hard response.
Moderator moves to medicare and entitlements. Will the benefits of medicare and Medicaid have to change in order for the programs to survive? Ryan attacks Obama care saying it’s not good for medicare and Medicaid. Ryan wants to give younger people guaranteed coverage options, more coverage for middle-income people.
We saved $716B and put it back into medicare, AARP endorsed what they did. This was a powerful moment with the crowd in the room. Biden looked in the camera and asked Medicare beneficiaries, “Do you have more benefits today? You do.” He asked beneficiaries who they believe, a guy who has fought his life for this or a new plan. As he tells folks to follow their instincts, the crowd breaks out in laughter. Ryan says the Romney/Ryan plan is a bipartisan plan that keeps benefits in place for people 55 and older, but Biden interrupts him to say that not one Democrat endorses it.
Bidens again looks into the camera to ask seniors if they are better off today. He’s clearly trying to speak to the people, which I think is a more powerful tactic than simply paying attention to the other debater.
Biden again asks folks who they trust. He says people don’t have the money to pay more out of pocket, alluding to the Ryan plan.
Moderator says the next question is very simple and says that she realizes she may not get a simple answer. Biden says “it’s a very simple answer. He’s raising the cost of medicare.” The crowd in the room goes wild.
The question is: who will pay more in taxes and who will pay less? Biden says they’re holding the middle class hostage to the super wealthy raising middle class taxes by $2,000 a year. “That’s unconscionable,” he says. The last people that need help are 120,000 families for another $500 billion tax cut over the next 10 years.
As Ryan explains his tax plan, there seems to be a lot of confused faces in the room.
Ryan is still talking about his tax plan. He says there will be a 20% tax cut across the board. The interruptions and banter back-and-forth is entertaining. The crowd is certainly getting a kick out of this, as is shown by their smiles, sighs and noises.
Biden says the small business owners that Ryan doesn’t want to raise taxes on includes hedge funds. Ryan attempts to defend his statement that they will make up $5 trillion dollars in tax cuts.
Moderator moves on to the topic of Afghanistan. The U.S. reached the milestone of losing 2,000 soldiers. The question is: Why not leave now? What more can we accomplish? Ryan says he agrees with 2014 target for transitioning out of Afghanistan. Biden says our purpose of going into Afghanistan was to get rid of Al Qaida central, we did that. We agreed to train their forces and do a gradual drawdown. Ryan camp agrees, but that it depends. He doesn’t seem to be specific on what it depends on.
What conditions could justify staying, Ryan? Ryan tells a story. He says we want to make sure 2014 is successful. Biden says the transition has to have a deadline, otherwise it won’t happen.
The moderator asks about the surge. Biden stands firm that the Obama administration did what they said they would do in terms of getting the soldiers in and then getting them out of harm’s way. The surge was a time-limited action.
The next question: Why not send military to Syria? The last thing America wants is to get into another ground war in the Middle East requiring tens of thousands, if not well over 100,000 soldiers. Ryan says no one is saying to send soldiers to war. Biden asks, rightly, of Ryan – what would you do differently? He seemed to evade the question.
What happens if Assad doesn’t fall? What’s your criteria for intervention, the moderator asks of Ryan. Biden says “yeah,” as if he wants to know as well. Ryan mentions embargos and sanctions in a vague way.
Turning to a more personal question: how does religion plays into your role on abortion? Ryan says his private life and public life are one in the same. He says life begins at conception. Meanwhile, Biden says his religion informs his social doctrine – and to help take care of people who can’t take care of themselves. He also believes life begins at conception, but he says he refuses to impose his beliefs on others. He won’t tell women they don’t have the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
The moderator asks: what should our heroes know about this campaign? Biden says the one truly sacred obligation as a government is to care for our soldiers. Ryan talks about broken promises of the Obama administration and repeats a comment he said early on in the debate – the idea that Obama paints a picture of who to run from when he doesn’t have a good platform to run on. Ryan says we get speeches from this administration, not leadership.
The last question is about character. What could the candidates bring to the vice presidency as a man, as a human being, that no one else could bring? Ryan doesn’t really answer the question. Biden says it’s all about the middle class, who he repeats that he’s devoted his life to serving.
Closing statements. I am surprised there is no fanfare from the crowd during closing remarks. The crowd was silent as they watched the screens. As the debate ends, it goes back to light chatter in the room.
Video: Biden on leveling the playing field in closing remarks.
The debate has ended.
About half of the room has cleared out. Some people are lingering in the room to talk about the debate and watch the post-debate coverage on MSNBC. I overhear people in the room who agree that Biden was flawless tonight. They compare the debate to last week’s debate between Obama and Romney. They admit that Obama was not on the top of his game, as if he couldn’t bounce back from attacks and make his points clearly and powerfully. This time, they say Biden was flawless.
For a full wrap-up of this event, click here.