Barack Obama supporter Dorcas Herr of Ashland reacts during the McCain-Obama debate at Redrock Pizza Pasta & Italian Eatery in downtown Medford Friday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Supporters like what they heard from candidates

Though it lacked the bloody intensity of Ali vs. Frazier or the ancient hatred of Yankees vs. Red Sox, the first presidential debate of this election season had local Democrats and Republicans fired up and ready for the next round.

Around 50 supporters of Arizona Sen. John McCain gathered at the Jackson County Republican headquarters on West Main Street in Medford to cheer on their candidate.

The crowd remained vocal throughout the first half of the debate, which dealt primarily with the current economic crisis and the controversial $700 billion government bailout plan.

Mary Privette stood out from the pack by wearing a Hillary Clinton for President T-shirt. Privette, a long-time Democratic, will be casting a vote for McCain this year after Clinton was, in her view, unfairly treated by her own party, and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, during the primary.

"It has also occurred to me that experience means a lot," Privette said. "It's not that McCain is the oldest candidate or that he has had cancer that concerns me. This year I am putting country before party."

Sandy Ambercrombie, of Medford, found a more humorous slant on the debate when pointing out the candidate's fashion choices.

"Look at McCain with his nice blue shirt, he looks more dressed for television," Ambercrombie said, chuckling. "Obama has that bright white shirt. For him, it all went down from there."

McCain's humor scored early with the local Republicans. McCain's crack about Obama's inability to work with Republicans in the U.S. Senate by saying it would be hard for the Illinois senator to "reach across the isle from that far to the left" brought the loudest laughs.

Valerie Smullen, a registered Republican since she moved to America from England in 1958, praised McCain's long record in government and his level-headed approach to the questions posed to him during the debate.

"He has been around the track several times," Smullen said. "He seems able to keep his thoughts in order and his thoughts are very clear."

Meanwhile, local Democrats enjoyed microbrews and pizza with the debate at the Redrock Pizza on West Jackson Street. A life-size cutout of Obama greeted those who filed into the bar. The crowd was mostly subdued for the first half of the war of words, though Obama's strong statements on America's need to improve it's standing in the world brought cheers and clapping.

McCain's decision earlier this week to suspend campaign activities to work on the economic bailout kept the debate up in the air, and potential viewers unsure of what to expect Friday night.

"I respect the fact that McCain was willing to address the mortgage crisis this week," said Brian Reed. "Fortunately, he was able to go through with the debate."

Ashland resident and Obama supporter Ann Cramer said she would have liked to hear more about the economic bailout before the debate moved onto to foreign policy issues.

"Neither candidate addressed the $700 billion, which is what I think is the most important topic right now," Cramer said.

Bob Scheelen, of Medford, called the debate a draw, which he said was a win for Obama.

"McCain was supposed to win the foreign policy debate out right, and I think Obama did very well there," Scheelen said. "That is in Obama's favor."

The debate did not seem to change anyone's mind on who they planned to vote for on Nov. 4.

"My vote was already cast before the debate, but this has once again confirmed Obama is the candidate we need right now," said Dorcas Herr. "This was a good opportunity to see the candidates stand side by side for the first time."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

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