Republican cookies

Watching the debate with McCain’s people

Want to guess on which channel the McCain-Palin supporters watched last week’s debate when they gathered at Brendan’s Irish Pub at the Orleans? You are correct. And so, as they awaited the debate, volume turned down, Bill O’Reilly could be seen in the background in a kerfuffle.

Mixing it up at the crowded debate party were regular supporters, mostly of a certain age, and the professionals and activists like McCain’s Nevada state director, Vaughn L. Ward (who declined to be interviewed for this story because he is not from Nevada), Clark County Republican Chairman Bernie Zadrowski and Chere’ Pedersen of Blue Star Mothers of Southern Nevada.

There were free sandwiches: ham and cheese and roast beef. A bakery had supplied themed cookies in the shape of a Republican elephant. “Real American food,” one man commented. “I just don’t think the polls are accurate,” a woman said. The drinks were not free, but many were willing to pay. Many of the women wore red Nancy Reagan suits with large gold pins on their lapels: “McCain 2008.”

Well to one side, so that the video-poker machine was off-camera, the governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, gave an interview to the local Fox affiliate. I waited for a chance to speak to her. I wondered if, being a governor of a state outside the protective cluster of 48, like the Alaskan governor she supports, Lingle felt her foreign policy credentials were enhanced by being closer to invasion than the rest of us. After all, the Japanese already bombed Hawaii once, proving the Island State at least as vulnerable as Alaska.

But I was not to find out; unlike for Fox, Lingle was too busy to speak to Las Vegas Weekly.

When the debate started, the partisan crowd jeered Obama as loudly as they cheered McCain. Thus, few of the Democratic candidate’s answers were intelligible. But McCain came through loud and clear. If Joe the plumber was unknown to most of the nation before the debate, this crowd cheered his name from McCain’s first mention.

Not that everyone was partisan; one guest played video poker. More challenging to GOP unity, a television had the Dodgers game on, and a few of the McCain supporters seemed to be suffering from divided loyalties. They were spared a public demonstration of this by the Dodgers giving their fans little to cheer about.

McCain, on the other hand, generated a lot of cheers.

The crowd, with a median age that seemed in the retirement years, responded most strongly to words about taxes. As Obama tried to explain how Joe the plumber would not be fined under his plan, Lillian Auspitz, viewing the debate from a table with three others, cried out “Liar!”

Afterward, Auspitz had no trouble declaring a winner. “John McCain won. He tells the truth. This Obama flip-flops and contradicts himself continuously.” Auspitz is not a lifetime Republican. “I used to be Democrat from New Jersey,” she said. She moved to Vegas about seven years ago, and has in recent years become a Republican.

I asked Auspitz if she had a favorite moment in the debate, a moment when she thought McCain earned that victory she declared for him: “Every time John McCain put this Obama in his place, that was my favorite moment.”


Richard Abowitz

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