Featured News Reporter's Notebook The Tattoo

On the scene at the prez debate

Amanda Lehmert and Danielle Ouimet at the presidential debate in Hartford. (YJI)

Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A. — After weeks of begging and pleading with various sources, our cushy jobs as Tattoo staff writers landed us media passes to the First Presidential Debate in Hartford. Passes in hand, we climbed into the compact car of Bristol Press reporter Steve Collins and headed to our state’s capital.

Our first stop was at the Hastings Hotel where some 1500 rabid supporters of our Commander in Chief rulin’, saxophone playin’, Whitewater dodgin’, pasty white thighs runnin’, the el presidento William Jefferson Clinton. First observation: this is one ugly hotel. They could have picked the place up a little bit. Who ever said being president holds clout?

Feeling pretty darn important with our little passes around our necks, we slid through the ropes to the “Media” section. With prime seats to scope the prez, we checked out the scene. The Steve and Mary Davis Jazz Orchestra provided a little back ground music to psych up the crowd. A huge “Go get em’ Bill”sign and a equally huge “Hartford says Good Luck Bill” sign adorned the fences.

Parents and their children were scattered like confetti throught the horde of people. Even the smallest toddler had a “Clinton/Gore 96” sticker or an American flag. It was pleasantly surprising to find so many young people supporting the President.

The excitement mounted as the Presidential limo entered the parking lot. Joining  President Clinton were First Lady Hillary Clinton and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. The crowd errupted in a “Four more years” chant as the prez took the podium. After a short but inspiring speech in which he promised that “the best days of this country are still ahead,” he shook some hands of supporters and retreated to his (ugly) hotel.

President Bill Clinton addresses a rally in Hartford. (YJI)

Still dizzy from the excitement of the moment, we entered the crowd to gather the perspectives of Connecticut’s youth. Since before the speech, a group of young men caught our attention for numerous reasons, the biggest being that they were all adorable. Throwing all reporters’ ethics aside, we approached one of the boys, Tyler Fleming, 17, of Middletown, who held a sign asking “Can I take Chelsea to the prom?” He said he got a thumbs up response from Bill.

When asked why he was there, he replied, “It’s once in a lifetime to see the President.”

His friends concurred. One even exclaimed, “I’m with this cat!”

Danielle Ouimet and Amanda Lehmert on the trail of the candidates. (YJI)

From there we booked it on over to the Civic Center to see where we would be spending our Debate Night time. On the Convention Center floor, rows of red, white, and blue tables were set up with television monitors for the reporters to watch the debate on. As unimpressive as that seems, there was one major perk: THE FREE STUFF!

Finally, the real reason to go into journalism! The actual debate might have been boring, but they definitly were not going to let you go hungry. Sandwiches, Jell-o cups, brownies, fudge, macaroni and cheese, pudding cups, pumpkin pie, and all the soda you could drink. After stuffing ourselves silly, we also noticed a table with free inedible novelties. Among these, disposable cameras, pens, key chains, reporters’ notebooks, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese boxes in Democrat and Republican shapes, and our favorite, Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile whistles!

While looking around a little place called “Spin Alley,”where the big shots come after the debates to talk to reporters, we noticed lots of big stations had their own areas. We found NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, C-SPAN, CNN, and, perhaps the most important- MTV News! We looked around for Tabitha Soren, the Choose or Lose correspondent, but she was nowhere to be seen … yet.

Media filing room at the Hartford Civic Center. (YJI)

A little later in the evening, we hiked over to Bushnell Park in the bitter cold to see those ever wacky Perot supporters. Trying to use as many big words as possible, they explained their position. Frightened, we slinked off as Steve got his quote.

The freak quotient quadrupled on the other side of the park as 3rd party supporters gathered to rally for their candidates. Normally, we would be open minded to different opinions, but we were handed brochures on anarchy and revolutions in the U.S. We were even further thrown off by a folk concert given by a obvious nutcase who sang of love, war, taxes, and Jacksonville burning. “What?” you may ask. We don’t know either.

Our next stop on the all night party train was Bob Dole’s rally at the Armory. We missed the bulk of Elizabeth Dole’s speech because security was so anal. When we FINALLY were granted the Oh SO Privileged Entrance we found out that we would not be seeing the Senator tonight because he was just too good to show up at his own rally. But maybe he would show up later.

The atmosphere was more like a high school football game than a Republican based rally. The place was set up with signs that said, “Touchdown Bob!” and a fake scoreboard that read, “Home – Dole\Kemp score 96, Away – Clinton\Gore score 0.” Unlike the rally for Clinton, the majority of the signs here were signs that people got on their way in, not signs they made at home. We exited quickly as a movie on Dole’s life came on a huge screen.

Back at the Civic Center, the caterers had switched from lunch to dinner. Making another  swipe for free food, we loaded up on tortellini and Italian desserts. After finishing off our dinner, we were depressed to learn that MTV had still not showed up. We slouched in front of our monitor watching 60 Minutes. But soon enough Steve informed us that the MTV people had arrived. We had joked all day about meeting Tabitha Soren and Steve decided that it would be a wonderful opportunity for us.

Begrudgingly, we walked up to her as she applied some pre-taping make-up.

When we told Steve we didn’t have anything to ask her, we really meant it. Finally we blurted out, “What part did you play in the Beastie Boys’ video?” since we had heard she was in the “Fight For Your Right (To Party)” video.

After collecting her thoughts, she laughed and said, “I was in the crowd. I had big, blond heavy metal hair. I was the only one that didn’t get hit with any pie.”

Danielle Ouimet and Amanda Lehmert question MTV’s Tabitha Soren. (YJI)

We apologized for interrupting, thanked her for her time, and returned to a smiling Steve, who informed us, “I got a picture!”

The debate started with little fanfare as the reporters trudged to their seats to catch all the political mudslinging and election year promises. But we’re sure that you have heard way too much about the debates, and lucky for you there is not much to tell about them. However, we will tell you our favorite quote of the day. It came from the WWII vet himself, the Doleman, when he was referring to his gun policy. Here it is, in three words: “You get zippo!”

With aching feet and armfulls of free junk, we left Hartford happy to have taken part in such a historical event. We truly will never forget … the free stuff.

Amanda Lehmert and Danielle Ouimet are Reporters for Youth Journalism International. 

Bob Dole and Bill Clinton face off at the presidential debate at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford.

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