Republican Party Faithful Comment on Debate

The Republican presidential candidates debated Thursday in California. Now, the party faithful are weighing in on how each one did.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, Rudy Giuliani, mad as a hatter nutso crazy. That's according to one New York journalist.

CHADWICK: Well, there the mayor was last night at the Republican presidential debate, the first of them, here in California at the Ronald Reagan Library. It was the first debate of the season for Republicans. It lasted just 90 minutes, not a whole lot of time for each of the 10 candidates to say much. What they did say left quite an impression on those who were there and many who watched on MSNBC.

NPR's Alex Cohen went out to Simi Valley where the debate was held.

ALEX COHEN: The Ronald Reagan Library sits on top of a big hill in Simi Valley. At around 3:00 p.m., guests started check in. The 420 people sitting in the audience were all invited guests. Friends of the 10 candidates, friends of MSNBC, and friends of the Reagans themselves.

Ms. DALE COGILL(ph) (Oak Park, California): My name is Dale Cogill and I'm a resident of Oak Park, California.

COHEN: Dale Cogill was invited by Nancy Reagan, a personal friend. Going into the debate, she was undecided.

Ms. COGILL: I'll be interested to hear the different issues that they address, and it's an opportunity for us to all learn more about each one of these fine gentlemen that's running for president.

COHEN: It doesn't seem like there's going to be a whole lot of time for any one of them to talk. Do you think you're going to have any sense of what they genuinely believe in such a short period of time?

Ms. COGILL: No, but I do think that there's a great deal that can be said in body language and in posturing, and after all, it was Mitt Romney, I believe, who said last night on the Jay Leno show that he just hopes he can go on the stage and get off and not mess up his hair. So as long as they keep a sense of humor, and they do a good job, and they present themselves well, I think they'll all be given an equal opportunity to make their positions known.

COHEN: Other guests like Lawrence Greenblatt of Hollywood went into the debate with a much clearer sense of who they supported.

Mr. LAWRENCE GREENBLATT (Hollywood, California): You'd be surprised. Rudy Giuliani.

COHEN: Why would I be surprised?

Mr. GREENBLATT: Because I'm very, very conservative, but he's electable, and I think he can win California.

COHEN: What kind of issues do you like to see people talking about tonight at the debate?

Mr. GREENBLATT: Oh, that's really good question. How are we going to win and end the war in Iraq? Notice how I say win and end, okay? Health insurance, mass transit, getting some light rails in Los Angeles. Their views on the environment. There's a myth that Republicans don't care about the environment; that's nonsense. I like Priuses. I like hybrids.

COHEN: Just a few miles away from the Reagan Library is the Grand Vista Hotel. This is where people like Jan Adams, who couldn't score a ticket to the debate, came to watch.

Ms. JAN ADAMS (Republican Supporter): I think Giuliani is my favorite right now, but I'm not sure. I've heard a lot about Hunter (unintelligible) yes.

COHEN: What are some of the issues that are most important to you this election season?

Ms. ADAMS: Well, of course the war. That's important to us. Our son, he's 34, just enlisted in the Army.

COHEN: And what kind of things do you like to hear from the candidates about the war?

Ms. ADAMS: I'd like to see an end to it, definitely. I think we all would, but I do feel like that we have to protect the United States, I really do. And I think people are - I think they do forget about 9/11, and I don't want it to happen again here.

COHEN: Jan didn't have to wait long. Senator John McCain responded to the second question of the night, which sure enough was on the war in Iraq.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): When on the floor of the House of the Representatives they cheer, they cheer when they pass a withdrawal motion that sets a certain date for surrender, what were they cheering? Surrender? Defeat? We must win in Iraq.

Ms. ADAMS: Hear-hear.

Senator McCAIN: If we withdraw, there will be chaos...

COHEN: Jan said hear-hear a lot last night in response to many of the candidates. But then the subject turned to abortion, and moderator Chris Matthews asked if it would be a good day for America if Roe v. Wade were repealed. The candidates responded with enthusiastic yeses and a most certainly. And then it was Rudy Giuliani's turn.

Mr. CHRIS MATTHEWS (MSNBC): Mayor?

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Mayor of New York): It would be okay.

Mr. MATTHEWS: Okay to repeal?

Mr. GIULIANI (Former Mayor of New York): It would be okay to repeal. It be okay also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent, and I think a judge has to make that...

Mr. MATTHEWS: Would it be okay if they didn't repeal it?

COHEN: Soon after, Chris Matthews turned to John McCain, and Jan Adams turned to me.

Ms. ADAMS: I changed my mind.

COHEN: Why did you change your mind?

Ms. ADAMS: I think Giuliani is being wishy-washy.

COHEN: On which topics were - do you think he was being wishy-washy on?

Ms. ADAMS: On abortion.

COHEN: Okay.

Ms. ADAMS: And also I think he's been wishy-washy on Iraq and Iran, and I think he's right.

COHEN: You think McCain is right?

Ms. ADAMS: Yes.

COHEN: Throughout the evening, Jan chatted a lot with her husband Bob. She also took notes. When the debate was over she let me take a peek.

COHEN: The first thing I noticed, could you please that? Good-looking.

Ms. ADAMS: Good-looking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ADAMS: That's Governor Romney.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: And what does Mr. Adams feel about this?

Mr. BOB ADAMS: I like Governor Romney and Governor Brownback. I think both of them made a lot of points tonight.

Ms. ADAMS: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: Okay? I particularly like McCain, because he's very (unintelligible) the war on terror.

COHEN: Jan says she liked what former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had to say about keeping jobs in the U.S., what Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo had to say about immigration. But who were the night's real winners?

Ms. ADAMS: I think Sam Brownback is one. I definitely think so. And I - oh, boy, I think that probably Senator McCain would be the second. He's just so adamant about his views. I totally support it.

COHEN: You came in here thinking Duncan Hunter.

Ms. ADAMS: Yeah, I did.

COHEN: ...and Rudy Giuliani.

Ms. ADAMS: Yeah, I did.

COHEN: And now a kind of a turnaround.

Ms. ADAMS: Yes, yeah. That's true. I like Dr. Ron Paul also from Texas. I really did like him, but you know, I just don't think he has the finesse. Did you feel that?

COHEN: Her husband agrees that Dr. Paul, the representative from Texas, didn't have the polish to beat a Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Back at the Ronald Reagan Library, Lawrence Greenblatt put it a bit more bluntly.

Mr. GREENBLATT: I think Ron Paul ought to get together in a room with Dennis Kucinich together on the we're from another planet ticket.

COHEN: Like Jan Adams, Lawrence Greenblatt also experienced a change of heart last night. He said after the debate he was feeling a bit tepid on Rudy Giuliani, but he was now quite keen on Sam Brownback.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Nobody ever heard of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and nobody would have ever thought that he would be the candidate, let alone the president. And Brownback sort of reminds me of Jimmy Carter in 1976. First of all, I like his tie. I'm just very conservative. I like the gold tie. I thought he's like the golden boy.

COHEN: Visuals seem to play a big role for those seating in the live audience last night. Remember Nancy Reagan's friend, Dale Cogill?

Ms. COGILL: I was looking for body language and what I've decided is that I want to build my own candidate. I want to take Mr. Giuliani's position on pro- choice. I'd like to take, let's see, Mr. McCain's position on defense. I'd like to take Duncan Hunter's position on illegal immigration and put them all together and put them in Mitt Romney's body.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: Not a bad idea. Roll four candidates into one and that would give him a whole lot more time to speak at the next debate. Speaking of which, another one will be held at the Ronald Reagan Library at the end of January 2008.

Alex Cohen, NPR News.

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