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Debate, Through A Glass Darkly

CBSNews.com's Jarrett Murphy took the pulse of the populace during and after the pivotal Democratic presidential debate.


There was no consensus candidate at O'K. Parker's "A Good Irish Tavern" as a handful of patrons watched the final Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary.

There wasn't even agreement on whether to watch it or not. At least Andy didn't want to. He seized the remote control and turned the TV over the bar off, only to be shouted down by the other customers.

"I just wanted a break," Andy said.

He wasn't the only one. Despite their locations virtually next door to the campaign headquarters of Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, several watering holes on Elm Street paid only fleeting attention to the debate.

At McGregor's, the debate was on the TV but the jukebox was the only audio. Close-captioned candidates on the 13-inch screen were little competition for hockey on the big TV. Margaritas down the street also went with hockey rather than the debate. Cahoots, a sports bar, offered a mix: hockey and basketball.

On Hanover Street, the wait staff at the Stage Door flipped on the debate. But like several bars it was all but empty.

For Democratic candidates, Thursday was a chance to make what for some could be a last gasp bid for votes in a race for the presidency of the United States; but in downtown Manchester, it was a weeknight, and it was cold.

New Hampshire residents have also been bombarded by media attention and candidates' ads; an almost endless stream of campaign spots greet them on local television.

O'K Parker was one of the few bars with local residents watching the candidates' clash. The bar seemed to have divided loyalties: Red Sox banners hung alongside Yankees paraphernalia, and a New England Patriots sign was overshadowed by a pennant for the Green Bay Packers.

Fists pumped when John Kerry spoke, but Ron thought the hurrahs obscured what the senator was saying.

"You're supporting this guy, you haven't heard a word he said," Ron told another customer, identified as Mellor.

"I've been hearing him for (expletive) 50 years, Ron," he replied. Kerry has been a U.S. senator from Massachusetts since 1986.

Al Sharpton got loud applause at Parker's. John Edwards also got good reviews. "This could be the guy," Mellor said. Ron agreed that Edwards would do well in the South, and that people in Iowa liked him.

A short walk from Parker's was the fancier Black Brimmer, where Kerry's staff and volunteers gathered to watch the debate. The bar was packed with young, tired-looking volunteers and burly men wearing yellow "Firefighters for Kerry" T-shirts. Through the din it was hard to hear the debate, but the crowd dutifully greeted Kerry's every response with raucous cheers.

The senator's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, addressed the crowd before the debate ended, thanking volunteers.

"We will win because we have the moral high ground," she said. "We'll sleep on Nov. 3."

Kerry backer Jessica Akridge attributed Kerry's sudden rise in the polls to his "starting to get the message that he is what he is." A top issue, Akridge said, was jobs, which she feels are more important to people than the war in Iraq.

"He has all the qualifications to be president," added Jules Bancroft. She cited Kerry's plan for education and his national security experience.

Asked if she agreed with his support for the resolution authorizing the war, Bancroft said, "I think Kerry does the right stuff in every decision he makes. I support Kerry fully."

Others were less devout. Some even went against the favorite son moniker Kerry has been given. Bob McCaffrey, a Massachusetts resident attending the rally because his relatives are among the Firefighters for Kerry, said the senator's support for labor impressed him. But Dennis Kucinich was his favorite.

"I'll vote my heart in the primary," McCaffrey said. "But I'll go with a Democrat when it comes to an election."

By Jarrett Murphy

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