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updated: 10/3/2012 10:55 PM

In West Chicago, a quiet, somber view of the first presidential debate

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  • The West Chicago library hosts a presidential debate streaming party on Wednesday.

       The West Chicago library hosts a presidential debate streaming party on Wednesday.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • The West Chicago library hosts a presidential debate streaming party on Wednesday.

       The West Chicago library hosts a presidential debate streaming party on Wednesday.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Only a small group of people attended the West Chicago library's presidential debate streaming party on Wednesday. Many said their minds had already been made up on whom to vote for.

       Only a small group of people attended the West Chicago library's presidential debate streaming party on Wednesday. Many said their minds had already been made up on whom to vote for.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

In a room set up to seat 40, nine people sat, for the West Chicago Library's viewing party of the first presidential debate Wednesday evening.

Patriotic napkins, bottles of water, and bags of unopened chips sat largely untouched, as attendees spaced out, stretched out, and stared somberly at the projection screen, as the debate streamed live online from the University of Denver. One gentleman periodically closed his eyes and checked his watch.

The mood was far different from four years ago, when groups across the suburbs hosted viewing parties as President Barack Obama, then a junior U.S. senator, made a historic bid for office after claiming the Democratic Party's nomination.

Since then, the jobless rate in the area has hovered between 9 and 10 percent. Home foreclosures have continued to dot streets across Cook, Kane, DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties.

Congress, has been riddled with partisan gridlock, with escalating debt and government programs, including Medicare, stand on the brink of insolvency.

Wherein any sortof "fault" might lie, attendees agreed, problems persist that make this election between Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney a crucial one.

Jazmine Larry and Tatiana Jackson, both 16-year-old juniors at West Chicago High School, came to the debate for extra credit for a government class.

Jackson said her mother has been out of work for over a year, actively looking but having no luck at netting a job. Both girls, who are beginning to look at colleges, say they're nervous about the possibility of escalating taxes and reduction to financial aid.

As African-Americans, they acknowledged the historic nature of Obama's first win.

This time, around, Larry said, "I just think he's the better candidate."

Rhonda Tyus Johnson acknowledged that the economy is driving the election, but described "family values" -- traditional marriage between a man and a woman and parental rights -- as the driving force behind her vote.

While she supported other candidates in the Republican primary, Tyus Johnson said, Romney quickly proved he had the "momentum" to go head to head with Obama.

As the candidates tussled over financial regulation, health care reform, and the role of government, the weeks of coaching and preparation for the two candidates were not lost on the room.

Quiet chuckles were emitted when Romney told Obama that he was "entitled to his own plane and his own house but not his own facts," and Obama, in turn, told Romney he would have a "busy first day" if elected, repealing health care and working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Ron Fousek -- an Obama supporter -- said his mind wasn't changed by the hour and a half debate, noting the candidates "don't answer the questions. They use them to expand on their political points." Still, he said, he'll keep watching, hoping the president will push Romney to reveal a more detailed economic plan.

Two more debates -- one at Hofstra University in New York Oct. 16 and another at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Oct. 22 -- remain.

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