By Joel Hall
Millions of people in America, and around the world, gathered around television sets on Thursday night to see the highly-anticipated debate between vice presidential candidates, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska).
According to the Nielsen ratings, the debate pulled 42 percent more viewers in the 55 largest American television markets than the first presidential debate between U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill).
Much of the focus of the vice presidential debate centered on the performance of Palin, the less senior of the two candidates, and the newest to take the national stage. While many Democrats view Palin as overly casual and unwilling, or unable, to answer important questions, many Republicans believe she was able to reach middle America and accurately frame the positions of the McCain/Palin campaign.
Locally, Republicans and Democrats came away with perspectives that were obviously divergent.
Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, Henry County District 2 commissioner and commission chairman-elect, will be the first female board of commissioners chairman in Henry County when she assumes leadership in January. She said she relates to Palin and believes her use of colloquialisms worked to her advantage.
"What people were able to walk away from the debate with, was that this is a real person, someone who is just like us, and can really relate to our needs," said Mathis. "People are tired of these pie-in-the-sky promises that politicians make. They want someone who is real.
"I think she presented to the people who she was," Mathis said. "I'm whoever I am, wherever I am at, and that's who she is. She doesn't try to disguise the kind of person she is. I think she's very capable as capable as Joe Biden, as capable as [John] McCain, and I have a lot of confidence in her abilities."
During the debate, Biden blamed the George W. Bush administration for "letting Wall Street run wild" through massive deregulation and lack of oversight. While Biden avoided attacking Palin directly, he tied McCain's voting record to President Bush, and implied that McCain and Palin are out of touch with average Americans.
Palin was often more direct in her attacks, calling out Biden several times for not supporting Obama earlier in his career. She also attempted to paint herself as a populist, referring to Biden on a first name basis and using several colloquial phrases, such as "darn right," "heck of a lot," and "say it ain't so, Joe."
Bill Herndon, Henry County Republican Party chairman, believes Palin "came across very well.
"I thought it was very appropriate," said Herndon. "I think that's middle America. I think that is being more friendly to your audience. She is oriented toward the people's problems.
"She connected to people and that's hard to do," said Herndon. Beyond the presentation, Herndon said Palin showed her executive experience as well as an understanding of the country's economic and energy needs.
Democrats, watching the debate in Clayton County, saw things from a very different perspective. A pro-Obama crowd watching the debate at The Coffee Spot in Jonesboro, said Palin's words lacked substance and professionalism.
"I didn't like the way she carried herself, to be honest," said Demias Pegues, who came from Macon to see the debate. "Most of the time, there was no substance to what she said. I think whenever she was asked a question, if she didn't know what to say, she would go right back to her talking points."
Pegues believes Palin weighed too heavily on her ties to Alaska, and that Palin did not make a big enough effort to reach out to undecided voters.
"Joe six-pack and hockey mom ... both of those words have meaning, just like welfare queen," said Pegues. "She was talking to her base. I think she was being exclusionary, where you don't hear Democrats using the same language. I don't think they reached voters in the middle, which they need in the election."
Jewel Frederick, of Hampton, said Palin's casual language in the debate "wasn't appropriate," and she thought Palin was often disrespectful to Biden and Obama.
"I was thinking, if she was black, she wouldn't be able to get away with it," said Frederick. "They would tear her up. They would say that she's not intelligent.
"The fact that she didn't call [Barack Obama] Senator Obama showed that she didn't have any respect for him," Frederick continued. "She just called him 'Barack.' That's like calling a doctor, mister.
"I don't think she is ready for the role of vice president at all," said Frederick.
While democrats said Biden was the most prepared, they conceded that Palin held her own.
"Joe won, but Sarah had a lot more to gain, because she needed to prove herself," said Pegues. "It's probably the best thing she has right now."