David and Gail Evans filled their house with a dozen red, white and blue balloons, and twice as many friends and neighbors to watch the Republican presidential candidates debate on television Tuesday night.
Their political house party was one of about 40 across the state and 1,000 across the country organized by Mitt Romney’s supporters to generate buzz for the former governor of Massachusetts.
The tactic paid off at the Evanses’ place. The guests sat in a semi-circle around a large-screen TV and paid close attention to each of the 10 candidates as they fielded questions about terrorism, abortion, immigration and taxes. They laughed at Texas Rep. Ron Paul, scoffed at Arizona Sen. John McCain and nodded to Romney.
The difference was that Romney offered the most direct answers to a series of pointed questions, Mesa businessman Dave Johnson said mid-way through the debate.
“He’s being taken a lot more seriously in this debate than he was last time. He’s gotten a lot of media attention since then — Time magazine cover, ‘60 Minutes’ — so it’s natural that when you start to rise in prominence, you’re going to get more of the hard questions. But I think he’s doing a great job with them,” Johnson said.
Gail Evans said she decided to host the party after researching all of the presidential candidates — both Republican and Democrat — on their Web sites. After studying the contenders’ positions for about a month, she settled on Romney because his views most closely aligned with her own, she said.
Eventually she enlisted as a volunteer for Romney’s campaign. “I received an e-mail saying they were doing these debate parties and I thought, ‘I can do that. I can invite some people over,’” she said.
She offered her guests meatballs, vegetables and instructions on how to donate money to Romney’s campaign.
The house parties were an important component to Romney’s two-phase, 24-hour “Sign-up America” strategy, said Gail Gitcho, spokeswoman for Romney’s national campaign. The second phase is set for today when volunteers stationed at dozens of phone banks across the country will try to enlist 24,000 new financial contributors and campaign volunteers.
“This is a nationwide grass-roots effort and it’s the biggest one we’ve ever had, so we certainly are putting a lot of focus on it,” Gitcho said.
McCain’s supporters presumably watched their man in action from the privacy of their own living rooms. McCain’s campaign did not organize house parties in Arizona for the debate, said Doug Cole, a McCain campaign volunteer.
McCain himself though was expected to drop by a house party in South Carolina after the debate and the post-debate interviews wrapped up. He then was scheduled to arrive in New York during the wee hours Wednesday morning to attend the graduation of his daughter Meghan at Columbia University later Wednesday.
McCain was expected to return to Arizona on Friday for a private weekend with his family at his ranch near Sedona, though no public events are scheduled.
He will return to Arizona late this month for a breakfast meeting sponsored by the John McCain 2008 Women’s Host Committee. The event at the Arizona Biltmore Resort is slated for 8 a.m., May 30. Tickets are $250 each. Information is available through Andrea Evans at (602) 448-5959.