Wednesday, October 08, 2008


McCain Begs for "Town Hall" Debates then can't get out of the room fast enough. Guess who stayed and answered questions when the cameras turned off?

October 7, 2008

Moments that pleased voters

Members of audience get chance to go one-on-one with candidates

By Colby Sledge
STAFF WRITER for The Tennesseean

Tuesday's presidential debate at Belmont University was a carefully orchestrated affair, one that was intended to make this event a barometer of what the nation wants from its next president.

But from inside the Curb Event Center, there was an audience that was unafraid to react to candidates' responses, or their lack thereof — something that didn't always show up on camera.

In addition to the chuckles moderator Tom Brokaw drew when he repeatedly addressed time constraints on candidate responses, reactions from audience members ranged from holding head in hands to chuckling at candidates' responses and squabbles.

Before the debate, many audience members tried to see how many national political figures they could pick out of the crowd seated directly below the network camera platform. Al and Tipper Gore received special recognition from the debate commission and were treated to a standing ovation.

Other notable guests included former Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson, who chatted it up with Mitt Romney, another Republican hopeful this year, seated in the row behind him. Former Titans running back Eddie George had a prime seat next to the Gores.

Ben Raybin was one of the 80 people who participated in the town hall session. The Vanderbilt University law student didn't get to ask his question (which was on Iraq), but he said what happened in the hall after the debate was perhaps the most informative moment of the evening.

He said John McCain stayed around for a few minutes and then quickly left, but Barack Obama stuck around for about 30 minutes afterward signing autographs and snapping photos with the participants.

Raybin said that personal touch made a strong impression on almost everyone at the debate.

Raybin said he was undecided but leaning toward Obama before the debate, but he had pretty much made up his mind now.

"It really struck a chord that Senator Obama stayed," Raybin said. "Him sticking around resonated with people. He seemed genuinely interested and curious about real people. He asked people their names and what they did."

Raybin, 23, said some people who didn't get to ask their questions in the debate actually got to ask him the questions.

"It's hard to blame Senator McCain for leaving," Raybin said. "I understand he's very busy and got a lot to do."

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