HAGERSTOWN —Endangering Big Bird turned out not to be a huge issue for some local political officials and other area residents, who said that Republican Mitt Romney won the first presidential debate Wednesday night against Democratic President Barack Obama.
“Gov. Romney looked presidential and ready,” Maryland Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said. “He respectfully pointed out key differences and contrasts, and had the president on the ropes.”
Former Washington County Commissioner Linda Irvin-Craig, a Democrat, said she thought the debate was a draw and pointed to the fact-checking that occurred afterward.
“The debate was the first time Gov. Romney articulated anything in a sound way, and the president held his own,” she said. “The governor denied the total tax cuts proposed would reach $5 trillion, but the fact checkers disputed that.”
The candidates touched on a variety of domestic issues, from health care to the economy to the deficit. At one point, Romney said he would stop the government subsidy to PBS to cut spending, even though he said he loved the “Sesame Street” character Big Bird, leading to a series of jokes that voting for Romney would endanger that show.
Shank, who termed the debate “a very big win” for Romney, said it could give him momentum after his struggle in the polls in recent weeks.
“This clearly will reinvigorate the base, and it provides swing voters objective evidence that he is ready,” Shank said. “I was pleased the debate was more about policy issues.”
Some local Democrats said they thought Romney won the debate, expressing disappointment with Obama’s performance.
“The man looked like he was exhausted. And he is running the country, so he did not have time to study for the debate,” said Hagerstown resident Edythe Rickard, a member of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee. “Obama should’ve followed up on Romney’s 47 percent comment.”
Rickard was referring to a tape released in September regarding a comment Romney made to donors at a private event in May about how 47 percent of the country would support Obama no matter what because they are dependent on government. She said she thinks Obama will do a better job in the next debate.
“He’s an extremely intelligent man, and I think Romney maybe put all of his answers on the table tonight,” she said. “The man or woman who becomes president doesn’t always win the debates.”
The debate, held at the University of Denver and moderated by Jim Lehrer, lasted slightly longer than 90 minutes.
Smithsburg Republican Mayor Mildred “Mickey” Myers said she was pleased with how Romney explained his plans in the debate.
“Obama had trouble responding to questions and defending his record,” she said. “If people sat down and really listened to the debate, it should have a big impact on the election.”
Polls conducted by CNN and CBS after the debate showed Romney the clear winner. Some area residents, regardless of party affiliation, agreed.
“Obama better step it up in the next debate if he wants to get re-elected,” Hagerstown resident Jim Kirk said. “My personal opinion didn’t change much from the last six months, but Romney did a better job than he has been doing, and he probably changed some minds.”
Kirk, 64, said he still supports Obama’s re-election bid.
Chuck Waltemire, 60, of Hagerstown, said he is supporting Romney and agreed that Romney won Wednesday’s debate.
“Mitt Romney stood his ground and disproved what the Obama campaign has been saying about him,” he said. “Obama better get his act together. He got beat last night.”
Samuel Woullard, 31, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said he is an independent who supports Obama and said he thought Obama won the debate.
“Obama seemed calm, collected and in control, and he seemed to get under Romney’s skin,” he said. “They didn’t really touch on the environment, though, and to me Obama’s better for the environment.”
The next scheduled debate is the vice presidential debate between Paul Ryan and Joe Biden on Thursday, Oct. 11, at Centre College in Danville, Ky. The final two presidential debates will be Tuesday, Oct. 16, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and Monday, Oct. 22, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.