Obama impresses partisan crowd at watch party

By Patricia Fenn

The Prince George's Sentinel
September 2008

George Kapanoske, President of the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Democratic Club, who was joined by 76 other members and supporters for the first of its series of watch parties for the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates, characterized Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as presenting, "with lots of rhetoric." By contrast, he said Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was "backing up his position with specific references and plans."

Kapanoske, 54, who will serve as club president for a year, thought the debate went as he had anticipated, "they traded criticism over the war and the economy. Senator Obama had to show voters that met the presidential test. And he clearly did that."

Ruth Flemons, 45, and her husband who sat nearby thought in less complimentary terms for both, saying: "There were no surprises. Both showed their experience and knowledge about the issues in the debate.," but Flemons also thought, "There had not been enough specifics." When asked how she anticipated the upcoming debate between vice presidential candidates, Flemons said she viewed the campaign in much more deliberate tone, "The focus for voters will be on Obama/McCain and not the vice presidential candidates. I have no plans to watch."

State Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21), characterized the viewers as "clearly a partisan crowd," noting that, "we're attracting new people. At least half of the attendance I'm still getting to know. People also came to gear up for the election with yard signs and to sign-up for volunteer time in nearby Virginia for voter registration and getting out the vote."

Rosapepe heard McCain as, "defending President Bush's policies in Iran and the economy and differing on how to lead the county out of financial crisis with a focus on vetoing bills with earmarks." By comparison, he thought Obama's emphasis was soundly placed in "...cutting corporate loopholes and tax cuts for 95 percent of the working taxpayer in sharp contrast to McCain's misguided intention of continuing Bush's tax cuts of some $300 billion to the wealthiest."

Finally, Rosapepe, the former ambassador to Romania in 1997 under President Clinton's term, also agreed with Obama's remarks that over the course of the Bush Administration, "We are less respected now than we were eight years ago or even four years ago," With a continuation of Bush's policies, "McCain, 90 percent the advocate, perception was unlikely to change."

The group applauded when Obama called McCain's tax position, "wrong-headed policy;" they clapped when Obama said, "...we should never hesitate to use military force, and I will not, as president, in order to keep the American people safe. But we have to use our military wisely. And we did not use our military wisely in Iraq." They cheered when Obama said, "John likes to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. 

You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni. And you were wrong." There was lots of extraneous chatter when they traded interpretations of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's views about negotiating with world leaders with preconditions. And finally, they groaned loudly about McCain's closing remark when he referred to his POW experience one more time.

The watch party was held at Sullivan's Steal and Beverage Company located on Route 198 in Laurel. Despite torrential rains, the restaurant and bar was filled with patrons. Owner Terry Sullivan, who had worked at the bar for 23 years, bought the business just last year from the former owners who wanted to retire.

"I'm thrilled they're here," she said, noting that she thought the group was an outgrowth of a fundraiser held there last year when friend Donna Creary ran for Laurel City Council.

Third term City Councilwoman Janis Robison and resident of Laurel for the last 33 years was in attendance with her adult son, John. Janis Robison who described herself, "knowledgeable about the backroom preparations for debates," thought, "...both candidates were well coached". But she also said that while both candidates talked about safety and national security, "Obama also cast his closing remarks on the same in the context of how the America will send a message to the world by investing, 'in issues that relate to how ordinary people are able to live out their dreams.'"

"It was much more inspiring," she said.

With that, Robison turned to nearby patrons to remind them to return on Oct. 2 for the long-awaited vice presidential debate. Like Robison, Sullivan expects, "a much larger and demonstrative crowd."