There were strong, highly charged reactions to the presidential debate last night throughout the Washington area as television viewers, many with their minds already made up, cheered or criticized the candidates.
In Alexandria, half a dozen neighbors gathered in a $365-a-month rented one-bedroom apartment to munch popcorn and drink beer as they both listened and talked back at the candidates.
"Bullroar!" exclaimed Donald Tornberg and Susan Kulesher at the same time when President Carter said that nuclear weapons were the most important issue of the campaign.
Tornberg, 32, a shoe store manager and a committed Republican, cheered and applauded when Reagan talked about cutting taxes or reducing government spending.
Kulesher, a 38-year-old Fairfax County school teacher, was a Reagan supporter when she sat down to watch the debate, but she repeatedly criticized Reagan for not being specific enough in answering the questions.
but Maryanne Roland, who voted for Gerald Ford four years ago, said she cannot vote for Reagan today. "He's a chameleon, I've seen his act too many times," she said. "In California as governor he gassed the students at Berkeley. Today he looked like a wax museum."
The one registered Democrat at the party, Leo Dorsey, 39, manager of a housing cooperative in Washington, said he thought Reagan won the debate but that he was still going to vote for Carter next week.
"I'm going to vote for Carter so Kennedy gets nominated in 1984," he said. "Besides, Reagan still scares me a little bit."
The debate apparently cleared up concerns about Reagan in at least one person previously committed to him. "I feel better about Reagan now," Kulesher said. "He thinks well on his feet."
Jan Waitt, a 32-year-old housewife with three teen-age children, said she had voted for Carter four years ago but now was "gung-ho" for Reagan.
"I was disgusted with Watergate and Carter was untouched by it, but I can't take another four years of him," she said. After she watched Carter and Reagan debate their views of race relations, she added, "I see no compassion from Carter and he's the big Christian. There goes his little smirk again."
She said she agreed with Reagan that the minimum wage for teen-agers should be lowered. "If they want to work for less money let them. No wonder they are into drugs," she said.
Waitt's husband, Gary, a nursing home administrator who last voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964, said Carter is "talking about bringing people into government but private industry can do it so much better."
Throughout the evening at Roland's apartment in the Park Fairfax complex, the U.S. economy was the constant topic of conversation during the 90-minute debate.
Said Kulesher when it was all over: "I am the widowed mother of two teen-aged daughters and I literally cannot afford to vote for Carter. I take as much as $600 a month out of savings intended for their college education so that I can keep ahead of my paycheck. After 16 years I am now making more than $20,000, but what can it buy you? Where will it end?
At Face's, a bar at 5626 Georgia Ave. NW in the District of Columbia, the presidential debate had to compete with laughter, the clinking of cocktail glasses and juke box music.
Many patrons gravitated to a far corner, paying no attention to the debate, but about half the people there watched it on a big TV screen. It soon became clear that this was Carter country.
"Sic 'em, Jimmy!" shouted someone from the bar as Carter's face appeared on screen for the first time.
For the most part the viewers in the bar -- almost all black -- thought Carter showed better command of facts and figures while Reagan spoke in generalities. Bethesda Naval Hospital corpsman James Bankstop seemed to sum up the views of many when he said: "Carter's a debater and Reagan's an actor, but what difference does it make? It's all acting."
It seemed the debate changed few minds at Face's -- no one interviewed there was for Reagan before the debate, and no one could be found afterwards who was for him, either.
Businessman Al McLain said he was particularly struck by Reagan's proposal to rebuild the inner cities by creating "industrial zones."
"I think his approach is asinine," said McLain, who was wearing a charcoal-gray three-piece suit and blue silk tie. "How the hell do you create an industrial zone in a city like Washington? How do you make sure minorities get the jobs? Who says industry will come in? Reagan skirted the issues."
John Booker, a 39-year-old liquor store owner, said he is an enthusiastic Carter supporter and believed the debate helped Carter's chances.
"It showed a lot of sharp differences between the two," Booker said. "I don't think Reagan is really aware of black people. I just think he would be a disaster."
In Rockville in Montgomery County, about 200 parents attending a monthly assembly of the county's Council of Parent Teacher Associations were told that a television set had been placed at the rear of the hall so they would not miss the debate. But they became so engrossed in their own debate on school matters that nearly all of them missed the presidential one.
Joyce Constantine, who served as president of the Montgomery PTA council for two years, took time to watch and was unrestrained in her contempt for Reagan's performance.
"I can't buy that king of c---," she said when the Republican candidate explained why he favors equal rights for women but opposes ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
A janitor in the building, which houses the central offices of the Montgomery County school system, stuck his head in the room after the presidential debate began, took a look at Carter and Reagan, and turned on his heel to leave. "I don't fool with voting," he said. "Neither one of those guys has anything for me."
One woman active in the PTA complained that Reagan "oozes sincerity" but conceded that the former California governor "is a lot smoother" than a local school board candidate to whom she compared him.
When Reagan talked about "differences between men and women" several of the women collectively sighed and one said, "Here comes the old Phyllis Schlafly argument."
Although Reagan clearly was unpopular with the small group of PTA activists watching the screen, Carter was not getting any ovations, either.
"I don't know how much better he will be with four more years of on-the-job training," said one woman who added that she will vote for Carter anyway.
One woman said Reagan "looks very old."
"He looks even older in color," put in another woman, peering at the small black-and-white set.
"I still like Anderson, but I've got to decide whether it's worth sticking with him," said another woman as she watched.
"It is," said Constantine, the only one in the group willing to give her name. "I'm going to vote for the man, and that's Anderson," she said.
The women all agreed that the final question by Barbara Walters was a bad one. When Walters asked each candidate to say why his opponent would not be a good president, one woman headed for the door.
"I can't stand this any more," she said.