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Viewers In Rural Virginia Impressed By VP Debate


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.


And I'm Renee Montagne. The viewers of last night's vice-presidential debate included a group on a hilltop in Virginia. They were attending a debate party. At the end, they shared their thoughts with our own Steve Inskeep, who is with us now. And Steve, where exactly were you?

STEVE INSKEEP: We were at the University of Virginia's campus in Wise County, Virginia. This is in the Appalachian Mountains, hundreds of miles from the urban areas around Washington, D.C. This is a swing state, Renee, and is for the first time in decades. And so, we came here. We watched in the student center with about 15 people. It was debate party sponsored by local Republicans, so they had the McCain/Palin buttons out, and they were watching the debate, of course. But some Obama backers attended as well. So, it was a good crowd.

MONTAGNE: And what did that crowd think? What did they think? How did the candidates do?

INSKEEP: Well, afterward we sat down. I didn't ask them who won. What I did ask was what specific statements or impressions people took away from that blizzard of claims last night. I wanted to know if this added to anything that people knew, if they learned anything. And one answer came from Kim Craft (ph). She's a telephone relay operator for the deaf, and she remembered one particular statement by Sarah Palin.

Ms. KIM CRAFT (Telephone Relay Operator, Wise County, Virginia): She did address something that Biden didn't address at all, was personal responsibility, that we've gotten into, you know, blame other people for my own actions. They don't need to go out and buy houses that are way over their heads.

INSKEEP: Craft is McCain supporter. She loved that statement by Sarah Palin. Perhaps predictably, Obama supporters were less impressed by Palin, people like Matthew Cram (ph), who's a lawyer here.

Mr. MATTHEW CRAM (Lawyer, Wise County, Virginia): Senator Biden appeared more authentic, if you will. I kind of got the feeling he was drawing more upon his own experience as opposed to drawing upon some debate bullets that he was memorizing. I heard Palin going back to this litany that she would harp upon: we're the mavericks, we're the mavericks.

MONTAGNE: And that was one of the opinions that voters offered Steve Inskeep at a debate party in southwestern Virginia. And Steve, we should mention you're in a remote, rural area where income is lower than the national average. Did these folks feel like the candidates were speaking to them?

INSKEEP: Well, there was a moment in the debate where the candidates overtly tried, Renee. Sarah Palin accused Joe Biden of opposing clean-coal technology. Biden said his words had been taken out of the context. And that whole argument is about this region of the country, entirely about the politics of this region, because coal is mined here. It's a big deal, in fact, in several competitive states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Afterwards, somewhat surprisingly, our group didn't even bring up that exchange. In fact, they hardly mentioned any of the candidates' obviously prepared zingers and one-liners and were more focused on things that did not get discussed. I heard from Denise Casey (ph), who is a railroad worker, who came to the debate party with her 11-year-old daughter, Leila (ph), and Leila sparked a heated exchange when she raised the subject of education.

Ms. LEILA CASEY: It didn't point enough about the school systems. They mentioned it once. They were talking about the teachers and systems, but they didn't say much about it.

Ms. DENISE CASEY (Railroad Worker, Weiss County, Virginia): What she's talking about is our old high schools that are in this area alone. How old are they? Big Stone Gap - their heater system went down last year.

INSKEEP: Here's where college student Michael Thacker (ph) jumped in.

Mr. MICHAEL THACKER (Student, University of Virginia at Wise): I took so many college classes, and we had books from 1992 to learn fifth-edition psychology. So, when I come here, I'm so far behind, it's not even funny.

INSKEEP: And suddenly, Renee, we were in this spirited discussion about an issue that really matters to people here, and it was actually not easy to drag them back to the superficial discussion of the theatrics on screen.

MONTAGNE: Well, did the debate change anybody's mind - even that you might have detected just a little?

INSKEEP: Well, maybe only to improve the opinions of the candidates that they already supported. Republicans were thrilled with Sarah Palin's aggressive performance. And one Democrat in our crowd who knew nothing about Joe Biden at the beginning, he said - he said he was impressed, thought that Biden elegantly walked a tightrope last night.

MONTAGNE: Steve, thanks very much. Glad to have you on the show, even just for a few minutes.

INSKEEP: Indeed.

MONTAGNE: Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep. And he'll be reporting Monday on the way political activists are trying to capture the Appalachian vote. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.