What’s the best balm for weary Democratic nerves, anxious after a shaky first debate performance from President Obama two weeks ago? Why, beer of course, and so a string of bars on Fourth Avenue in south Park Slope, the bluest of neighborhoods in the bluest of cities in the bluest of states, offered drink specials and promised TVs devoted to tonight’s face-off between Obama and Mitt Romney.
At Pacific Standard, a Berkeley-themed bar across the street from a shuttered Ron Paul for President campaign office, more than a hundred partisans gathered to watch this latest tete-a-tete, courtesy of a big-screen TV playing over a pull-down map of the world and over an open Webster’s dictionary. As the crowd sucked down the debate happy-hour specials in the hours before the debate, a worried frisson settled over them.
“I’m honestly very nervous,” said Angela Hu, 22, sporting a cracked iPhone and tucked into a corner booth with a friend. She was drinking something called a Bear Republic Racer 5 because, she said, quoting the menu, it had “a hint of floral and light hops. And also it was $5.”
“Prior to the last debate I was very optimistic about Obama’s chances. Now I think it will be a very close race.”
An Obama voter in ’08, she had become an independent in the interregnum. “Honestly, it speaks to the lack of faith I have in Obama.”
Hu was joined by Irinia Dvalidze, whom she described as a fellow “postgrad”—meaning they had both finished Syracuse in May.
If Romney won tonight, Dvalidze said, she would be checking out that JetBlue offer that allowed people to enter a contest to fly out of the country if their candidate didn’t win in November.
“He is an intelligent man. That last debate was ridiculous.”
Elsewhere, the feeling that this was Obama’s big chance to make up for a mulligan the last time out was shared.
“I really hope he doesn’t falter, but you know I am worried,” said Jesse Diener-Bennett, 25, a composer and novelist, who had a laptop and a 21st Amendment stein in front of him. His plaid shirt was unbuttoned, his beard unkempt. He lives across the street, and the bar, he said, was where he goes “to watch TV, since I don’t have a TV.”
And already he had become a master at playing what the campaigns call the expectations game.
“I expect an even debate. I don’t expect him to kill Romney.”
And if he’s wrong? “I think it could change the outcome of the election.”
Pacific Standard had become ground zero for this motley assortment of 20-somethings because it was hosting “Drinking Liberally,” a drinking club of sorts that began a decade ago in Hell’s Kitchen and has spread to dozens of cities across the nation. Participants in the flagship bureau still gather weekly at a hole-in-the-wall bar in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan to talk about progressive politics and lament those who don’t get it.
“People come and go as needed,” said Nicole Lindenbaum, 29, one of the organizers of the evening. “I guess you could call it therapy.”
(Her take on the stakes of the evening: “If Romney can walk out having clearly won two debates, President Obama is in trouble. I’m pretty nervous.”)
Sitting in the front-row on a couch was Brian Schecter, who “runs a startup” and worked as a field organizer for Obama’s 2008 effort.
“Another fuck-up like the first time, and Romney can win,” he said, his Pilsner and plate of chips and salsa spread out before him on a chest. “He seemed presidential, and people don’t want to associate with the loser.”
His biggest concern was that Obama was no good in town halls—“he can have a very hard time connecting with people”—but there was hope that the president seemed to prefer a good comeback narrative.
“Obama likes to create drama for himself. It’s like he waits until the danger sets in.”
The debate itself was a hard one for anyone at the bar to objectively score. Every answer the president gave was greeted with a loud cheer. When a town-hall questioner named Barry spoke, someone yelled “YEA BARRY!” When Romney professed his faith in God, a loud “fuck you!” was heard from the back of the bar. A reporter for the German Financial Times kept standing up and clapping. “Yes I am for Obama. Everybody in Europe is.”
And as the surrogates gathered to spin in the spin room at Hofstra, the partisans at Pacific Standard felt good, but not too good.
“I think Obama gave good answers, but you just don’t know what independents are thinking,” said Lindenbaum. “Obama came off as strong, but so did Biden, and a lot of people were turned off by that.”
“Romney is just very genuine in his answers,” said Schecter. “He repeats facts, and whether or not they are true, they work on people.”
He conceded that it was hard to tell winners and losers in a bar filled with cheering.
“To tell you the truth, it was the room that annoyed me more than anything.”