A well-dressed audience watched two presidential candidates make backhanded compliments and insults behind white smiles inside the University of Texas Recreational Sports Center.
It was not just presidential hopefuls Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton at the Texas Democratic Debate in Austin Thursday; only a few hundred feet away, the supporters backed their chosen candidate as loudly as they could.
The supporters outside yelled. They picketed with triple-layered signs and accused the other side of attempting dirty tricks and not understanding the issues.
"This is exhilarating. There's so much energy here," said Michelle White, Clinton campaigner. "I'm out here on no hours of sleep."
An observer at the debate entrance would notice the Clinton camp outnumbered Obama's. They arrived carrying drums, campaign signs and megaphones.
"The Obama supporters have been trying dirty tricks, putting stickers on Hillary supporters," said Tory Lauterbach, Clinton campaigner.
The Obama supporters carried artistic portraits, sang songs and had a marching band.
"The Clinton supporters have three signs per stick, and the Obama supporters match them with one person per sign," said Mark Morris, Obama supporter. "I think it's gaudy, unnecessary."
The debate did not include Republican candidates, but those praising a conservative ideology were in the marching. Not missing the chance to hold signs and chant in support for their candidate, an outnumbered but not outmatched group of Ron Paul advocates made an appearance.
"Ron Paul is still growing and continuing," said Mike Siekkien, Paul supporter. "This has gotten people to wake up, support change, not McCain. It has gotten people to restore values."
Journalists watched the debate on screens in the pressroom. They typed commentary and coverage on laptops, providing instant updates to Web sites.
The candidates sent advocates and media relations specialists to talk to the press after their speeches. The specialists emphasized what their candidate did well and why they won, regardless of actual performance.
"I'm glad to see Obama is on the forefront of the immigration issue," said state Rep. Rafael Anchia.
He said Clinton's and Obama's immigration plans were almost identical.
The spinners tried to portray their candidate in a better light and highlighted the oppositions' worst moments.
"The low moment of the debate was when Clinton stooped to attacking a descent, well respected state senator," said Rep. Chet Edwards, referring to Clinton's mention of Kirk Watson's inability to name Obama's congressional accomplishments. "Until then, the whole night was about the issues."
Obama and Clinton, who agreed on several issues, emphasized their differences inside the debate hall.
"Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox," Clinton said. "Now, there is no doubt that you are a passionate, eloquent speaker, and I applaud you for that.But when you look at what we face in this country, we do need to unite the country, but we have to unite it for a purpose around very specific goals."
Obama said words and actions are important.
"I do think that words are important and words matter, but actions speak louder than words," Obama said. "I've got to admit, some of (my speeches) are pretty good."
© 2008 The University Star via U-WIRE