Debate? No thanks, keep the game on |

Debate? No thanks, keep the game on

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

At 18 years old, Nick Stucky can vote in this year’s election, the first time he can help decide who occupies the White House.

But on Thursday night, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democratic front-runners, on television in a key debate before the Super Tuesday voting, Stucky and the others escaping the brutal weather into the Davanza pizza shop in Old Town are not so interested in the politicians.

It is college basketball tonight. North Carolina is beating Boston College. Notre Dame is winning against Providence. February is when conference rivals seem to play almost nightly, when teams start to position themselves for the postseason and when the fans start turning their attention from football to basketball.

The three televisions inside Davanza are tuned to basketball games, and nobody asks to change any of them to the Clinton-Obama action.

"A lot of my friends are interested in politics. They’re into it. I don’t know if I care," says Stucky, who lives in Silver Creek and hopes to work in the film industry. "To me, I’m happy. I can still live. I can do what I do for fun."

The scene at Davanza seems to resemble much of what is happening in the Main Street bars on Thursday night. Televisions are tuned to the games, and the people inside are busy eating, drinking and gabbing.

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Politics? Not a chance on Main Street on this night, with a fierce snowstorm pounding Old Town and people trading their stories of an epic day on the slopes. But Utah voters will join those in the other Super Tuesday states as both major parties hold primaries.

Utah, of course, is not a key battleground state, but the candidates are wooing voters here anyway. With the contests still undecided after the first primaries and caucuses, Utah and other states with smaller populations are enjoying more attention from the campaigns. The delegate count is still close, and the candidates want to pick up votes for the nominating conventions wherever they can, even in a place like Utah, long considered a lightweight in presidential politics.

At about 7:20 p.m., an Obama commercial is shown during one of the games. It is made especially for Utah voters — that alone an indication of the importance of the nominating delegates that Utah will award on Tuesday.

Stucky does not plan to vote in the primary, but he does want to cast a ballot in November. A 2007 graduate of Park City High School, Stucky is unsure what issues he will pay most attention to as Election Day approaches in the fall.

"It just seems like there’s a lot of progress to be had," before voters pick the next president in November, he says.

Election officials are unsure how many people will vote on Tuesday, but the campaign has drawn lots of interest locally. Obama supporters have opened a Park City office, and Obama and Rudy Giuliani visited the city in 2007, rare appearances in a small community by big-name White House contenders. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who owns a house in Deer Valley, remains popular in the area from his days leading the 2002 Winter Olympics.

But the last time the incumbent president was not on the ballot, in 2000, voters in Summit County were not that interested in the primaries. Just 5.3 percent of the registered voters in the county cast ballots in a March 10, 2000 primary, with the local voters agreeing with the rest of the country that George W. Bush should be the Republican nominee and Al Gore should lead the Democratic ticket.

A steady stream of customers is braving the weather at Davanza. Families with young kids sit and stand next to middle-aged people and some looking like they are in their 20s and 30s. The restaurant’s delivery drivers are hurrying in and out, and four small kids huddle around a video game, challenging themselves on the Megatouch Maxx Sapphire edition.

Eric Barber, a 27-year-old manager at the restaurant, figures he should keep the basketball games on the televisions. If he changes one of them to the debate, Barber says, the customers would tell him to turn it back to the basketball games.

Rarely is there anything but sports on the TVs there, he says. A Democrat, Barber is not registered to vote, but he plans to submit registration papers before Election Day in November. He will vote for the Democratic nominee, whomever it is. He prefers Obama but would feel fine if Clinton is the party’s nominee.

Barber says there is rarely much political chatter at Davanza, with the Sundance Film Festival crowd being an exception. The restaurant, sitting near the bottom of the Town Lift, draws big crowds of skiers and snowboarders, a bloc of Parkites who appear marginally interested in the upcoming primary.

"Most of us are all ski bums of some sort. I know there are people interested, and I am, but I can’t watch the debate," he says, adding, "They’re all the blue-collar kids. We should all be more involved, but the truth is we’re all pretty much adrift."