By: Erin Ostrowsky, Osprey Radio News Director
UNF students and faculty watched the Republican debate Jan. 26 as it unfolded at the Lazzara Performance Hall in the Fine Arts Center.
Though CNN and the Florida Republican Party restricted entry into the Lazzara Performance Hall, students and faculty found alternate viewing methods to see the four remaining Republican candidates.
“I definitely took a lot more out of it, being able to experience it with a group of my peers,” said Carley Robinson, a UNF communication junior, who watched the debate inside the Robinson Theater with fellow students and faculty.
Other students also appreciated the experience of watching the debate as a community.
“I think I enjoyed it more than I thought I would,” said Nancy Winckler-Zungia, a UNF communication senior.
The audience unified to celebrate Jacksonville and UNF shout-outs — such as when CNN cut to a take of Student Body President Matt Brockelman and Student Government Senate President Carlo Fassi — and when lighter moments revealed the candidates’ hilarity.
“We all laughed at the same things,” Winckler-Zuniga said.
UNF Communication Professor Christine Holland said candidate Ron Paul made her laugh, but did not “win” the debate.
“Though Ron is a cowboy, humorous and a lot of fun, I don’t believe he will get elected,” Holland said.
The students felt opposition in terms of who won the debate in their eyes. Robinson said she admired Paul’s performance, even though she doesn’t like his positions.
Winckler-Zuniga said candidate Newt Gingrich surprised her, as she has been around long enough to see Gingrich as a loose cannon since the inception of his political career.
UNF Political Science Professor Michael Binder, who has also followed Gingrich’s political career for years, was surprised by Gingrich’s debate performance for a different reason.
“Traditionally Gingrich does well, but in this debate his performance was subpar,” Binder said. “While he debated well, it wasn’t his best effort. In a few instances, Gingrich didn’t have a good response to [candidate Mitt] Romney’s rebuttals.”
Whitney Croxton, UNF public relations senior, said she was not a fan of the banter between Gingrich and Romney.
“I think it’s frustrating that they continue to attack each other instead of focusing on the issues,” Croxton said.
Binder was surprised that Romney and Gingrich still fought back and forth, but Binder said the campaign is getting ugly, and he understands why they resorted to attacking each other.
Holland focused on the positive aspect of presidential debates — the opportunity for U.S. citizens to make informed decisions when voting for the next president.
“These are four articulate men,” Holland said. “These public debates, where we can watch them exchange remarks and ideas, are a beautiful way to elect a president. It allows the people to evaluate each candidate and make an educated decision.”
While the Republican presidential debate brought a level of national excitement previously unknown to the UNF campus, students may find themselves wondering if the candidates actually understand the issue that matters to them most.
Winckler-Zuniga expressed concern for what candidate Rick Santorum said about Latin America and immigration laws because she has family members from the nearby continent.
“I don’t think any of them understand what it’s like to come to this country,” Winckler-Zuniga said.
Holland observed Santorum’s expert deflection technique when he addressed Puerto Rico.
“When he asked about whether or not he supports making Puerto Rico the 51st state, he didn’t answer the question,” Holland said. “Instead, he got into discussing his friends in Puerto Rico.”
One other detriment young voters face is the idea that candidates promote unrealistic ideas, such as Gingrich’s plan for a colony on the moon.
“The country is spending money that it doesn’t have, and the $15 million recorded doesn’t even include promises made to welfare dependents and the elderly,” said Yemi Olaogun, a UNF accounting senior. “It’s a train wreck. I still love America and can’t think of a place I’d rather live, but this is getting out of hand. Have you seen the tax code? It’s a disaster.”
There is no lack of political rhetoric concerning the objective of fixing the economy — the top issue for college students, said UNF Assistant Political Science Professor Dr. Nicholas Seabrook — but substantive and clear strategy rarely seems to surface.
Young voters could impact the presidential election if they turned up in the same numbers as other groups, Seabrook said. But there is an apathy towards the 2012 presidential elections that wasn’t there in 2008 when then presidential-hopeful Barack Obama engaged students.
Seabrook said he hopes this event will energize students to think about the presidential election and participate.
Cecelia Podrecca and Sara Gossman contributed to this report.
Email Erin Ostrowsky at [email protected]