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UMD students give Biden, Palin points for style; marvel at support

Cheers and jeers filled two rooms at UMD's Kirby Student Center on Thursday night when Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden faced-off in the first and only vice presidential debate of the 2008 election.

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University of Minnesota Duluth seniors Ashley Gaugler (left) and Julie Birman react to a clever remark made by Governor Sarah Palin, during the beginning of the vice presidential debate Thursday night. The two watched the debate with other College Republicans. "I think she's exciting and I think she's exactly what the party needed to energize it," said Birman. "I think she would be a great next vice president." [Amanda Hansmeyer/News Tribune]

Cheers and jeers filled two rooms at UMD's Kirby Student Center on Thursday night when Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden faced-off in the first and only vice presidential debate of the 2008 election.

Upstairs, the College Republicans ate pizza, watched the debate on FOX News and rallied around their new girl on the block in national politics.

Downstairs a group in the Kirby Games Room TV pit watched CNN and tended to back Barack Obama's white-haired running mate.

Political pundits said it was more how the VP candidates conveyed their message and less what they said, saying style was more important than substance. But several UMD students were listening with keen interest to each answer, even as they pounded away on laptops and cell phones.

The mostly pro-Democratic crowd downstairs jeered and hissed Palin when she said she would not support gay marriage and when she seemed to change her past stand on global warming.

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Upstairs, there were snickers at Biden's mistakes and disdain for Biden's attacks against John McCain's policy on Iraq.

"I was surprised to come down here and see this room so full. This is amazing. This is great,'' said Katja Cappetta, a UMD senior in the game room. "I came down here because I don't have TV at home. I didn't expect people would be so interested.''

Cappetta, decidedly pro-Obama and thus pro-Biden, said she's been helping register thousands of UMD students to vote. She said there's swelling support for Obama.

"I hope that all this interest, and the people who register, actually turn out in people voting,'' she said.

College Republican Tyler Verry, a UMD sophomore, said having debate parties probably won't sway anyone's vote. But he said the events help build camaraderie among campus Republicans.

"It's nice to be here with each other for support,'' Verry said.

Kelly Scherro, who works in UMD's food service, stuck her head in the Republican event and quietly watched from the back of the room for a few minutes. She was surprised to see other pro-McCain people at UMD. While she once considered voting for Obama, she now plans to vote for McCain-Palin.

"It's refreshing to see McCain supporters on campus,'' she said. "And I really like her [Palin] a lot. She's a strong woman. She seems very capable.''

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But two floors down, Josh Clarke, a UMD sophomore, said Palin doesn't seem fit to be vice president.

"She keeps changing the subject, cutting off the issue, like she's trying to hide something or doesn't have an answer,'' Clarke said. "She just shows a lack of experience, kind of naive.''

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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