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While Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) traded barbs, about two dozen area residents watched and added their own commentary from MJ’s Pub and Grill in Oglesby. At party hosted by the local Romney-Ryan campaign, area residents heard what the candidates had to say, and, while many were disappointed with a lack of new information, most left for the evening even more convinced that they had already chosen the right candidate. “This is more like, ‘Who’s Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?’” Jim Burns said as the debate began. Taking an early dig at Biden, he added, “Ryan passed fifth grade.” For Burns, the most important issue he wanted to hear about was the economy. “Our health care costs, fuel costs — It’s affected us,” Burns said. He had hoped to hear more, especially about the rising cost of energy, including gas. He was glad to hear Ryan stand by previously announced taxation priorities. “A tax is a punishment,” he said, agreeing with Ryan’s attack on the Obama-Biden tax plan. “You’re punishing productivity.” Seeking more revenue is an irresponsible solution to the nation’s problems, according to Burns. “You can do more with less. We have to,” he said. Carla Margis of La Salle, who serves as the vice chairman for the La Salle County Republican Central Committee, thought Biden had a too-rosy assessment of the relationship between the U.S. and other countries. “I feel we have gotten more enemies since they became the administration,” she said. As the mother of a recent veteran, that concerns her. She also felt Biden’s remarks about the improving economy were false and deceitful. As a local business owner, she sees the impact of continued hardship on her customers. “People have a hard time paying me because they have a hard time getting money from the people that owe them,” Margis said. “I don’t want to lose the gains we made in Afghanistan and Iraq,” she said, echoing comments by Ryan. For La Salle County party chairman Susan Thornton, Biden’s style was a distraction from what she really wanted to hear. “I was really overwhelmed by the condescending attitude of our vice president,” she said. “It overshadowed everything, really.” Jim Matthews of Oglesby shared a similar perspective. “I just think that Joe Biden was a little bit disrespectful, because he was interrupting and laughing,” Matthews said. Like Burns, he wanted to hear more about the Democrats’ economic plan. “I think that’s more important,” he said. “There’s a lot of people – 25 million – out of work… Just raising taxes on the rich is not going to get them working. “He didn’t enunciate a vision on how that is going to happen.” Leading up to the debates, commentators had speculated that Biden would use a rougher delivery style than in 2008, when he was cautious not to appear as a “bully” against Sarah Palin. Locally, Max Halm thought the vice president may have gone too far, adopting instead an aggressive approach to the debate. “I don’t think aggressive will play well with independents,” Halm said. Kenneth Surdell of La Salle said he didn’t hear anything new from either candidate. Particularly on topics relating to the Middle East, that was a disappointment to him. “As far as the war goes in the Arab world, I have a little more understanding of how the Muslims think,” he said. He was not satisfied with the way either candidate answered questions about how to handle delicate international relations in the region. “Hopefully both parties are looking out for the interest of the American people first,” he said. Gary Phillippi of Oglesby smiled after the debate concluded, proud of his preferred candidate’s performance. But it wasn’t Paul Ryan who cheered his heart. “Biden was just tremendous,” the self-professing Democrat said. He attended the debate watching because he liked MJ’s, he said, not the Republican party. “I was afraid (Biden) would fail,” Phillippi continued. “Absolutely he showed what America needs in the devastating event a vice president should step in.” Phillippi was most impressed at Biden’s stance on foreign policy issues. “Romney is for war, obviously, and Biden wants to negotiate,” he said. Greg Stein, a fellow Oglesby resident who brought his “Democrat hat” to the evening, also said foreign policy issues were the most important to him. In addition to supporting Biden’s perspective on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2014, Stein wished he would have pointed out another value of the stated deadline. Most in attendance, however, proudly sported Romney-Ryan stickers and applauded when Ryan referenced Biden’s previous slips of the tongue. If the performance of either candidate changed any minds, none confessed, as they carried fresh Romney-Ryan campaign signs out toward the street.
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