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Debate-watching parties draw jeers, applause

on September 27, 2008


Sept. 27—They cheered, they jeered and they rolled their eyes. Some even slurped “Obama-Mama” cocktails—a special concoction of coconut rum and pineapple juice—at one of the dozens of debate-watching parties held throughout Oakland and Berkeley on Friday night.

Ardent supporters of Barack Obama or John McCain gathered to watch the season’s first presidential debate at neighborhood bars, restaurants, homes and corner stores.

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Seen and heard at the debate-watching parties around the region:

At the Conga Lounge on College Avenue, owner Emmanuel Thanos passes around a tin bucket asking for $1 minimum donations to the Obama campaign. It’s a tight space, with about 75 people straining to watch a tiny 13-inch television tucked behind the bar in the dimly lit, tropical-themed lounge.

Conga Lounge debate party

Conga Lounge debate party

The place is noisy before the debate begins, but everyone quiets down once Obama comes on the screen. People cheer when Obama speaks; patrons turn to order more drinks and catch up with friends when McCain responds, pausing to boo when the Republican calls himself a “maverick.”

“He’s too cool for school,” a woman says of Obama. Another woman shouts obscenities at McCain. “We’re die-hard liberals,” said Thanos, decked out in a “Vote for Change” t-shirt and Obama cap. “We did this with Kerry and were sorely disappointed.”


Nathan George, 28, opens his South Berkeley home to fellow Republicans to watch the debate around a couple of bowls of popcorn. The graduate student is joined by nine other McCain supporters, who learned of the party through McCain’s official campaign web site.

They chuckle a few timessuch as when Obama bungles McCain’s first namebut the tenor of the evening is relaxed and casual, without much overt emotion. It’s one of the only pro-McCain parties in the East Bayunsurprising given the region’s overwhelming liberal demographics.

“There’s not much [political] discourse here in Berkeley,” George says. “There’s kind of a mob mentality. A lot of people haven’t thought it through because they think, well, this is what I’m supposed to believe.”


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At J&B Fine Foods, a convenience store run by a family of Yemeni immigrants at the corner of Adeline and Harmon Streets, Faiz Kaid is trying to watch the debate on a small television suspended from the ceiling of the store. The shop sells Obama gear because “it’s good business,” he says, but the brothers who run the store were Clinton supporters.

Patrons of J&B Fine Foods stop to watch the debate

Patrons of J&B Fine Foods stop to watch the debate

When the shop is quiet, Kaid watches intently, but it’s a Friday evening and there’s a lot of people coming in and out of the store. Many come for the prepared chicken the store sells, others for basic groceries, snacks and Swisher cigars.

A middle-aged African-American woman wearing an elegant full-length cream coat walks into the store while McCain is talking about cutting federal subsidies for ethanol. She is a regular customer but has no money to buy food, and tries to convince Kaid to extend her credit. Kaid relents, and allows her to take a box of wheat crackers, a block of Longhorn cheese and two packets of potato chips. She tries for “cheap cigarettes,” but Kaid won’t give them to her. “That’s not good for you,” he says.



Debate party at Home of Chicken and Waffles

Debate party at Home of Chicken and Waffles

Giant plates of deep-fried chicken, grits and syrupy waffles make their way around the dining room of the Home and Chicken and Waffles in downtown Oakland, where a big-screen television is set up for about 75 enthusiastic and predominately black supporters of Obama.

Lorena Terrell arrives early to nab a front-row seat to watch the debate. The 62-year-old retired Oakland resident gazes with rapt attention at Obama, a man she wants to be “our truly first black president.”

“Even though we really believed Bill Clinton was black,”  Terrell says, laughing. She’s already given $500 to the Obama campaignthe first time she’s ever donated to a political campaign.





Contributing writers include: Christina Salerno, Clare Major, Kristine Wong, Henry Jones, Maggie Fazeli Fard, Isabel Esterman, Linnea Edmeier||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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