A show of hands demonstrated that most of the about 250 students witnessing the first presidential debate between the College Democrats and the College Republicans were first-time voters.
Sponsored by Student Government, each party was represented by three students who became experts that night on political topics, such as the economy, health care, education, the Iraq war and voting.
Some audience members came to the debate to get help in making their final decision.
Freshman Chris Gryniewicz, a business major and Republican, believes voting according to your party is a poor decision.
“I think voting on partisan lines is a problem in this day and age,” he said. “It’s important for voters to learn about both candidates and make an informed decision.”
Special guests Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, and Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena both stressed the importance of voting.
“This is an exciting year. No matter what happens, history is going to be made,” Crist said. “Go vote — be involved.”
The importance of voting and voting for the candidate instead of the party were stressed throughout the debate.
“Whatever your political affiliation, the most important thing is you let your voice be heard,” Saul-Sena said. “My message is vote early.”
In the aspect of the economy, the College Democrats said that Barack Obama plans to spend $16 billion to send out rebate checks to the public. The College Republicans, however, said that this plan was unwise because it gave money to those who spent carelessly.
Also, the College Republicans said that John McCain plans to offer more incentives and benefits to teachers to better education nationally. The College Democrats said that Obama’s policies are directed toward college students and will help college students get into and pay for college.
Overall, the College Democrats said that Obama’s policies will better the nation, as a whole, because they offer solutions. The College Republicans said, however, that John McCain’s policies will give the American public a fishing pole — a way to take care of themselves instead of a temporary solution, a fish, as Obama’s resolutions would.
Many students were interested in what their peers had to say.
Freshman and Independent Ashley Sanchez, a health care education major, said she feels the representatives could have elaborated on the issues, but also came to hear the issues explained by her peers.
“I wanted to see what others had to say and I’d never been to a debate before — I wanted to experience it. They could’ve explained the policies and procedures a little more, but I thought it was pretty good,” she said.
Senior Frank Malatesta, a political science major and SG director of community and government affairs, agreed.
“Because they are first-time voters, they don’t have the history of trying to interpret issues on their own,” he said. “Their peers could better communicate the candidate’s ideas.”
Senior Garin Flowers, a broadcast news major and College Democrats representative, believes students benefited from the debate.
“Students got a good representation of the two candidates,” he said. “You got to focus on the topics instead of the negativity and personal attacks.”
Flowers said he believes that, especially in this historical election, student involvement is at an all-time high, and that the media and various organizations are succeeding in pushing students to become involved and to study the issues pertaining to the election.
Senior Ashley Intartaglia, a public relations major and College Republicans representative, agreed.
“(The debate) wasn’t skewed by attacks — it focused on the issues,” said senior Ashley Intaraglia, a College Republicans representative and public relations major. “I think the straw poll combined with this provides students with greater representation rather than attack ads and pointless bickering,” she said.
The debate was the first of its kind for SG, but junior Anna Daily, a political science major and coordinator for Community and Government Affairs, said she hopes future members host SG debates.
“All we can do is leave behind what we did, how we did it, how successful it was and, hopefully, it will be continued,” she said.