RACINE COUNTY — Whether watching on TV or attending in person, Racine’s political faithful followed last night’s debate closely as the district’s U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan took the national stage.

Democrats commandeered several tables and a flat-screen TV at the local San Francisco Grill, 6300 Washington Ave., to cheer on Vice President Joe Biden while sipping drinks and snacking on french fries. Even early in the night, clapping and cheers of “Go Joe!” punctuated a debate that touched on foreign policy, national economics and more.

Meanwhile, four local Republicans took their third-row seats at the debate itself, following a more than seven-hour road-trip from Wisconsin to Kentucky to support their congressman and favored vice presidential pick.

“It was surreal,” said local GOP and TEA Party organizer Nancy Milholland.

Like her fellow road-tripping Republicans, Milholland has met Ryan and helped on past campaigns. Seeing him up on the national stage?

“A once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.

Back home, Biden’s repeated demand that Ryan “show me a policy” was one of several lines that earned a loud round of spontaneous applause from the 19 Democrats assembled at the San Francisco Grill.

Although most in attendance agreed that President Barack Obama’s performance in last week’s debate was weak, there was resounding agreement that the vice president handily took Thursday’s debate.

“Joe won!” shouted Sharon Cushing, a retired school psychologist, adding, “But we love him.”

Cushing said she and her husband were most interested in Biden’s economic policy, because they’re worried “what’s going to become of our children,” educated, middle-class people who Cushing fears would be hurt by the policies proposed by Ryan and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

From Danville, Milholland disagreed. To her, Ryan was the clear winner.

“He was fresh and he directly articulated his and Mitt Romney’s true vision for the country,” she said.

Sitting in the audience, Milholland said she got to see everything, and the vice president’s laughter during a few Ryan responses was a turn-off.

“There’s just a stark, stark difference,” she said.

As Milholland and her fellow Republicans head back to Wisconsin, local Democrats are looking ahead to next week’s second presidential debate, hoping Obama will mirror the success they saw in Biden.

“We just hope he does better,” Cushing said. “He certainly has it in him.”

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