"Oooooo! Hillary Clinton's face!" says Milla Savelieff, and she draws a big, fat X through it.
It's another Democratic presidential debate, probably the 37th or so, and Savelieff and some of her comrades in the College Republicans at American University have gathered to watch and snicker and hoot -- and play Democratic Debate Bingo.
They're squeezed into a tiny room upstairs at the student union building yesterday, listening carefully, their bingo cards on their knees.
On the small television screen, Tom Brokaw directs a question about Medicare reform to Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.). Beside the set sits a George W. Bush doll -- the GOP's answer to Mattel's Ken -- and on the wall above it is a poster of a grinning Ronald Reagan cheek by jowl with his horse.
The wits at the Republican National Committee debuted Democratic Debate Bingo in time for the Oct. 9 debate in Arizona, and since then, the games on the committee's Web site have registered nearly 39,000 hits, according to RNC press secretary Christine Iverson.
You print out a card to play at home and keep track of what the RNC says are the "predictable phrases, accusations and attacks" peppering the Democrats' rhetoric. The bingo card also has a donkey for the center square and the occasional Democratic mug shot. The phrases include, but are not limited to: Unilateral Intervention, Right-Wing Radical, Single-Payer Health Care, Dirty Air, Despair, Liar, United Nations, For the Rich, Miserable Failure, Crisis, and Was a Republican Until (designed especially for retired Gen. Wesley Clark). Added yesterday morning in time for the afternoon debate in Iowa were Patriotism and Negative Ad.
Politics is all about the Phrase -- the buzzword, the bite, the promise (or threat) sold in a slogan. Democratic Debate Bingo lampoons this, even as it recognizes how all candidates from any party are captive to such evocations.
"These debates are so filled with negativity and protest and pessimism," says Iverson, "and we thought it would be a good way to make it more enjoyable from a viewer perspective."
Answers her counterpart at the Democratic National Committee, Communications Director Debra DeShong: "I guess we would come up with a Republican Monopoly, where Enron and Halliburton are Park Place. The way the president conducts his foreign policy, I guess it's just a game of Risk." Ba-dum-bum.
Polls persist in finding registered Democrats hardly listening in on the political process a year before the general election, but the AU College Republicans in the room say they have watched a portion of each of the debates, and they're excited to finally see a little action as the gloves come off between Gephardt and frontrunner Howard Dean.
Gephardt charges that Dean's health-care program when he was Vermont governor "cut funding for the blind and disabled," and the camera cuts to Dean, who bares those teeth of his and glares.
"He's gonna punch him in the nose," says David Hodges, a 20-year-old junior majoring in international relations and Arabic. (Does he speak Arabic? "Not yet!" he says cheerfully.)
It can be a lonely life as a College Republican at AU, says Ibbie Hedrick, the 22-year-old senior who is president of the club. There are about 550 members, "but we know we represent the minority of the student body, and we're very vocal," she says. "A couple of people mentioned that you could do this bingo game, and some people have been playing, in their own rooms." This time, they've gathered for the benefit of the press, and the cause.
Carol Moseley Braun talks about converting to Single-Payer Health Care: X!
Gephardt says, " . . . before Bill Clinton came into this office": X!
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) calls Dean "a balanced budget freak," and all the students look quickly to their boards, only to find the phrase is not listed. Nor is Trojan horse, "and that's a big mistake," says Hedrick, since several of the candidates say the pending Medicare reform legislation is just that, "a Trojan horse for special interests."
After about an hour, before the contenders have even warmed up to the war in Iraq, the students get up and head off to evening classes. Nobody gets bingo, but Hodges gets close, with eight spots marked off.
But you don't have to play to win. Keeping America Safe, say these students, is the only phrase that really counts.