Many Viewers 'Bitter' About ABC Debate

Blogosphere buzzes with criticism and praise for line of questions.

Apr. 17, 2008— -- As you'd imagine, the debate is the talk of the town here today, and not all of it is positive. The consensus seems to be that Sen. Barack Obama had a rough night, and many are objecting to the tenor of the questions. Today, the candidate literally brushed it all off, saying that this was simply old-style politics.

At a town hall meeting in North Carolina today, Obama shrugged off Wednesday night's confrontation, though with evident disdain.

"When you're running for president you gotta expect it, and so you just kind of let it ..." he said, stopping midsentence and brushing off his shoulders as the crowd applauded.

A grueling round of debate questions focused on issues such as Obama's patriotism and his more controversial friends.

At one point, for instance, ABC moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Obama about his former pastor, saying, "Do you think the Rev. Wright loves America as much as you do?"

Today, Obama said, "Forty-five minutes before we heard about health care. Forty-five minutes before we heard about Iraq. Forty-five minutes before we heard about jobs. Forty-five minutes before we heard about gas prices."

In Philadelphia's Reading Market today, others shared those views.

Voter Wardell Quitman fumed. "I feel like they wasted a whole hour, a good hour, talking about nothing!"

ABC News has heard from thousands of angry viewers. At least some of the negative reaction came from Obama supporters, among them the liberal group MoveOn, which has mounted an action campaign to send a message to the network.

One viewer wrote, "This so-called 'debate' will be shown to my communications students as an example of what shoddy journalism looks like."

"Shame on you, Charlie and George," wrote another viewer. "We deserve better."

But some were more positive.

Among them, one viewer wrote: "Folks, if [Obama] can't deal with the hostile questions from George and Charlie, how do you expect him to deal with McCain and company in the fall?"

In Haverford, Pa., Sen. Hillary Clinton asked her audience, "How many of you watched the debate last night?" Many raised their hands.

Aside from that brief mention, however, she spent most of her time talking about issues such as immigration and health care.

But her husband, Bill Clinton, who was also campaigning in Pennsylvania, couldn't resist bringing it up.

"They've been beating up on her for 15 months," he said. "I didn't hear her whining when he said she was untruthful in Iowa, or called her the senator from Punjab. And you know they said some pretty rough things about me, too. But you know, this is a contact sport. If you don't want to play, keep your uniform off."

Today, Obama's campaign didn't skip a beat. He received the endorsement of two more superdelegates.

But the debate was the focus of much attention. The campaign even sent out a new fundraising appeal, telling supporters that a small contribution would send a powerful message against old-style politics.

At a town hall meeting in North Carolina, Obama took a question from a fourth-grader named Cameron, who has political ambitions of his own. He is an elected representative on the student council.

"How do I get to be president one day?" he asked.

Obama smiled, and noted that he hadn't yet won his election, but Cameron had.

"How many debates did you have to do?" Obama asked. "None? Sounds great!"