With presidential candidates Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) present - in the form of cardboard cutouts - the University of Maryland's College Democrats and Republicans broke down their respective standard-bearers' platforms in a debate last night at the University View.
In front of state Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George's) and a crowd of more than 80 students who gathered in the fourth-floor lounge, the two groups discussed the war in Iraq, foreign policy and the environment. But despite what Amy Hartman, vice president of College Democrats, said was the goal of the debate - to inform the crowd on the candidates' viewpoints - students said they didn't learn anything new.
"Everybody is already decided, going into these things," said senior biology major Naveed Choudry. "The more the audience hears both sides, the more they cling to their prejudices."
Moderator Krystle Norman, a registered Democrat and a public policy graduate student, prompted the two sides with pointed questions like, "Break down your candidate's health care plan," and "Define victory in the war in Iraq, in the war on terror." The debate teams, featuring four members each, largely kept their responses within the minute-long rules and avoided bogging down their case with excessive statistics.
While the two groups disagreed on their candidates' levels of commitment on various issues, both teams said their candidates would champion the environment by investing in various energy initiatives.
They disagreed on everything else, including the best strategy for Iraq, how to improve America's image abroad and who to tax. Each argued their candidate would bring change.
"The main distinction is whose rhetoric matches their record," said John Allenbach, president of College Democrats. "McCain voted 95 percent with Bush. ... His staffers work for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and lobbying firms."
"Obama is all rhetoric. He uses big words, good language, but he doesn't say anything. He has no military experience," said College Republicans executive board member Jeff Gray. "
But despite the bombast, junior meteorology major Benet Tribble said he's still undecided heading into the election.
"I'm not hearing anything good about energy, and I'm a big energy guy. I guess a lot of us are," he said. "The Democrats and Obama should really work for the issue, like they say they are."