The debate party was sponsored by Gen44, a group dedicated to raising money for the president from those under 40.
Brandon Quam and Nicole Bowron could have watched Wednesday night's presidential debate at home, but instead they decided to watch it at a crowded Hawk's Bar & Grill on State Street, where there was a listening party set up with several large screen TVs.
"We like to be surrounded by people who like politics and share the experience," Quam said after the debate. "Having gone through the recall election, we have come to appreciate being with other liberals."
There was certainly camaraderie at Hawk's, which was filled with progressives who groaned and giggled collectively at the appropriate moments. There were groans when Republican Mitt Romney mentioned Wisconsin (recalling some hard-working guy he met in Appleton and the time when he gave props to former Gov. Tommy Thompson). There were also shouts of "lies" when Romney explained his economic ideas; laughter when President Obama cracked a joke.
Wednesday's debate is a warm up for liberals in Madison -- Obama will speak at the UW-Madison on Thursday in an attempt to fire up the base in a swing state as the campaign enters the final weeks. Bowron said Thursday's visit was intended to fire up students in particular.
The debate party was sponsored by Gen44, a group dedicated to raising money for the president from those under 40. But organizers for the group said they've been told by the campaign not to speak to the press. The crowd was comprised largely of people in their 20s and 30s. Organizers with the Madison branch (see Facebook, Twitter) made their way through bar during the debate with iPads asking for donations.
Bree Rose, a Milwaukee resident who lived in Madison during the last presidential race, was visiting and came to Hawk's with a friend because she figured there'd be a political crowd. "We were both surprised that Romney held his own," she said, adding that they expected him to fall flat.
Rose said she was also surprised at "how much Romney was holding onto repealing ObamaCare," the nickname for the Affordable Care Act that has been a signature of Obama's first term. ("ObamaCare" started out as a pejorative, but has since been embraced by the president, and even Romney said during the debate that he used the term with respect.)
There was no consensus that either candidate scored a clear victory, even in a crowd that clearly favors the president.
Quam said that he thought Obama seemed worn out. 'He didn't seem to have the energy level." He wondered if the Romney camp has been holding their candidate back in recent weeks, resting him up so he'd seem fresh during the first debate. Quam was also surprised that Obama didn't go on the attack a little more by mentioning Romney's "47% comment" and Bain Capital, the company Romney once headed.
But, he thought that Obama had the better zingers. "He did have some comic relief in there."
But they doubted it would have much effect on the overall race. "I think Obama has a grip on the overall race. He's ahead in every poll and incumbents have an advantage already," Quam said. "Plus Mitt Romney's favorability ratings are really low."
Although Rose didn't think many people would be swayed by the debate toward Romney, she added, "there are a lot of dumb people out there."
Before the debate, Mahlon Mitchell -- president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin who ran unsuccessfully in the recall effort against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch -- tried to fire up the crowd by offering extra tickets to Obama's speech. He also promised to tip the bar staff, if they would instead give their money to Obama.
He also admitted that some of the recall cheers were now "played out" and attempted to come up with a new one. He instructed that when he yelled, "are we fired up?" the crowd should respond "ready to go."
"Our President is a great president and he's doing great things," he said.