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Republican committees gather for first presidential debate in Geneva

GENEVA – Those at a debate watching party Wednesday in downtown Geneva compared the verbal match between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney as a sporting event.

The Geneva and St. Charles Republican Central Committees promoted it as such with posters reminiscent of a boxing match, calling the debate “The Mile-High Melee” and asking, “Can Barack defend his title?”

But Ken Shepro, the St. Charles Township Republican chairman, didn’t trivialize the importance of the long-held election tradition. Debates, he said, are important because it’s the only chance voters have to see the candidates in the same room, where it’s difficult to run and hide.

Wednesday’s debate was the first between Obama and Romney and focused on domestic policy. They are set to square off again Oct. 16 and Oct. 22. A vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan is set for Oct. 11.

As people dined on the ground floor of Old Towne Pub with sports on the TVs, a few dozen Republicans upstairs tuned the TVs to FOX for its airing of the 8 p.m. debate.

Shepro quizzed attendees on presidential debate trivia as the group waited for the debate to begin, at which time the steady chatter that had filled the room quieted.

Although moderator Jim Lehrer instructed the audience at the University of Denver to refrain from making noise, those at Old Towne Pub punctuated some of Romney’s remarks with applause.

“It’s like a sports event, like a Super Bowl,” attendee Mary Lynn Swanson said, adding it’s fun to watch the debate among people of like minds.

And, like Shepro, she said they’re important to watch.

“Because whoever is the president will significantly influence their life,” Swanson said.

Sometimes, however, the substance of the debate gets overshadowed by gaffes, Shepro said.

“Everyone sits there, waiting for the knockout,” he said.

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