For most of the 16 students watching Thursday’s vice presidential debate at Augustana College in Rock Island, the Nov. 6 election will be the first in which they can participate as voters.
Many agreed that watching Vice President Joe Biden spar with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was different than the debate between presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
“I expected bloodshed throughout the course of the debate, but they definitely came out fighting from the start,” said Joe Wood, 20, of North Henderson, Ill.
Wood, a sophomore studying political science and economics, said he comes from a family that is politically aware. This is the first time he can vote and he said he is looking forward to the privilege. He is taking the debates seriously.
Before the debate, Wood said that Biden could come out one of two ways. One would be as the laughing, chuckling Biden who seemed out of touch with the people, while the other way would be as the senior politician and statesman with very broad knowledge.
“I think we saw a little bit of both,” Wood said afterward.
“I don’t like that he is seen chuckling when Ryan is talking. I think the American people will look upon that as being disrespectful.”
Constance Soltysik, 19, a sophomore political science major from Mount Prospect, Ill., made no bones about who she liked and who she thought won the debate.
“I think Paul Ryan is mean,” she said. “He sounds like a jerk. I think he’s winning the debate only because he’s lying.
“I think the Democrats are just dying these days,” Soltysik said.
Alicia Oken, 21, of Naperville, Ill., said there was a stark contrast between last week’s presidential debate and Thursday’s between the vice presidential candidates.
“This debate is definitely more exciting,” said Oken, a senior political science and journalism major. “Biden came out a lot stronger, but they’re both really into it. They’re attacking and rebounding.
“They’re both implying that the other is the liar, but they’re not coming out and saying it,” she added.
“I think when it gets down to it, the question is which one you would want to step in if something happened to the president.”
Seth Hardcastle, 18, of Centennial Colo., said Biden surprised him by coming out ready to fight.
Still, Hardcastle, a freshman political science major, said that some things Biden said were not what Obama said last week.
As for Ryan, “he’s letting Biden bully him a little bit.”
“I think they could be more cordial and allow the other to speak and not interrupt,” he added.
Hardcastle said he thought the moderator, Martha Raddatz of ABC News, was a bit overbearing.
“The moderator is trying to debate,” he said of Raddatz.
He said that in the presidential debate, Jim Lehrer, the executive editor and semi-retired anchor of the “PBS News Hour,” got walked over by both Obama and Romney.
“She’s not letting them talk,” Hardcastle said. “I think she’s all puffed up because of what happened last week.”
After the debate, those viewing it were equally split on who won.
“It’s close,” Hardcastle said. “If I need to pick a winner, I’m going to wait until I can look at the fact checkers. It used to be politicians could say anything.
“But with the Internet and the fact checkers, they can’t. We’ll see what the fact checkers say.”
Christopher Whitt, associate professor of political science at Augustana, told the students before the debate to expect “fireworks.”
“This will be a chance for them to put out a lot of details,” Whitt said.
But he also reminded them of the role of the vice president.
“The job description relies on who the president is and what the president wants his vice president to accomplish,” Whitt explained.
“Other than that, the vice president doesn’t do a lot,” he said. “He breaks ties in the Senate, but other than that his job is not to die so that he can fulfill the role of succession in case something happens to the president.”