Keystone students take in political debates
BY PATRICK LEONARD
Wyoming County Press Examiner
Probably like most Americans, the students at Keystone College were divided over the outcome of the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney last Wednesday night.
Keystone’s Student Senate organized an on-campus television viewing of the debate in the cafeteria of Hibbard Hall as a way to get students involved in the upcoming election.
A diverse group of students showed up and their takes of the evening’s outcome were equally as diverse.
Shawon Gibbons of Honesdale is a senior at Keystone and a member of the Student Senate. He calls himself a supporter of Mitt Romney and believes that there was little doubt about which candidate looked better at Wednesday’s debate.
“Romney came out swinging; he really brought his ‘A’ game,” Gibbons stated. “He brought up all the right information. I thought President Obama looked unprepared.”
Classmate Norm Benzelenski of Scranton disagreed with Gibbons, however.
While admitting that the president could have done better in a few areas throughout the course of the debate, Benzelenski feels that President Obama did a good job.
“I thought the president gave a strong performance,” Benzelenski said. “I just thought he should have called Romney out on some of the things he has said. Romney looked good too but his platform has holes. Overall I would say the debate was about even.”
Benzelenski is a registered Democrat who said he supports President Obama.
Approximately 40 students attended the televised debates, some to show their support for one of the candidates, others to become more informed of the issues.
Political Science professor Jeff Brauer attended the campus event and said that he was pleased with the student turnout.
“It’s tough for students to watch the debates during the middle of the week because they just don’t have the time,” Brauer said. “They have to study and they have other commitments. But we had a good number of students show up.”
Brauer said that the students who did attend paid attention to the debates, not using the time to do their homework or talk with friends, but rather to listen to what the two candidates had to say.
“For part of the time I was watching the students to gauge their reactions,” Brauer commented. “They looked like they were engaged and watching what was going on. They were taking it all in.”
With the debate lasting for an hour-and-a-half, Brauer said that many students were unable to stay for the entire coverage, which he said is common among television viewership during a debate.
“Throughout a debate, viewership gets less and less the longer it goes on,” Brauer pointed out. “People like to see the candidates and get a taste for what they are saying. That’s why it is important for the candidates to get their messages out early.”
On that front, Brauer felt that Romney did an excellent job in the debate of reaching out to the voting audience.
“Romney had a great night,” Brauer observed. “I think a lot of people were impressed and surprised by him, including Obama. I thought the president was caught off guard. This definitely helps the Romney campaign to get back on track.”
Brauer did warn, however, of placing too much emphasis on the debates.
“This was definitely important for Romney because it legitimizes his candidacy,” Brauer said, “but debates don’t move polls. He energized his base. Wallets will start opening for his campaign but most people tune in to the debates to support their candidate, not to choose.”
Brauer noted that approximately 150 students have registered to vote since the beginning of the semester and the Obama campaign was on the campus on Tuesday afternoon, the last day for Pennsylvanians to register, trying to recruit even more.
Brauer said it is much more common for the democrats to attempt to register voters on college campuses than it is for the republicans.
“Both parties try to play to their strengths,” Brauer explained. “Demographically, people that are less likely to vote, such as college students, are more likely to support the democrats if they do vote. The Obama campaign is trying to make sure those students get to the polls.”
One of the Keystone students who most certainly will be going to the polls on election day, Gibbons pointed out that he felt the Obama looked distracted during the presidential debates, as if he did not want to be there. He said his advice to Romney for the remainder of his campaign would be to target the younger voters.
“Romney needs to reach out to the younger generation,” Gibbons said. “A lot of young people think he doesn’t care about them. They think he wants to cut college loans and that isn’t true. He needs to make sure young people know that. He needs to defend his stance on education.”
Gibbons added that he believes it is important that people understand the severity of next month’s election.
“I think it is vital that we get Romney in office,” Gibbons said. “We have a deficit each year; we can’t just keep spending. Obama promised change but his change never came.”
Benzelenski agreed with Gibbons’ assessment of the importance of the upcoming election but, not surprisingly, disagreed with the path our country should take.
“A lot is riding on this election and we have two totally different candidates,” Benzelenski pointed out. “I don’t vote straight party. I pick the better candidate and I don’t think it’s even close. President Obama is better for the middle class. He’s done a good job in his first term and I think his next four years will be even better.”
Benzelenski added that he is not close-minded about listening to opposing views. The aspiring political science professor said he is happy when people are informed on the issues and choose the better candidate based on the facts.
That exact reason is why the college hosted its debate night on campus. Gibbons believes it was a positive step for getting students interested in the political process.
“The students who came to watch looked really interested in what the candidates were talking about,” said Gibbons, who wants to go into politics someday. “Hopefully, we will get more people out for the next two debates.”
Keystone will be inviting students to the remaining three debates of this presidential season.
This Thursday is the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. The presidential nominees will be debating twice more: Tuesday, October 16 and Monday, October 22. All of the debates begin at 9 p.m. and will conclude at 10:30 p.m.