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For conflicted hockey fans, debate wasn’t must-watch TV

By Shira Schoenberg
Globe Correspondent / June 14, 2011

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — George Cernada, a retired public health professor, is following the 2012 presidential race closely. So closely that he relied on not one but two people to tape last night’s GOP debate. He planned to watch the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I couldn’t [tape] the Bruins — I have to watch it live,’’ Cernada said yesterday. “I love to have my blood pressure raised. It’s a much more exciting venue’’ than the debate.

Cernada, a 73-year-old lifelong Bruins fan, had solved the same dilemma that many residents of the Granite State confronted: What channel to turn to at 8 p.m.?

On one hand, there were the seven Republican presidential candidates meeting onstage for the first time at the CNN/WMUR-TV/Union Leader debate.

On the other, Game 6, where the beloved Bruins were taking on the Vancouver Canucks. Based on an unscientific survey yesterday afternoon, hockey skated away with the competition.

For some, the choice was not difficult.

“I’m watching the Bruins, baby!’’ said a confident Nate Mooreside, a 20-year-old from Auburn who works at a Tedeschi Food Shop.

Paul McIver, 49, a Coca-Cola sales manager from Derry, said it’s too soon to focus on an election more than a year away. “It’s early for presidential debates. There’s plenty more to come before next year,’’ McIver said. “It’s time for the Bruins.’’

But for others, the night brought a delicate balancing act. Mark Morris does fund-raising for Saint Anselm College, the site of the debate. He would like to see his workplace in the limelight. But the New Hampshire native — whose hero is former Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr — was clear on his priorities.

“The Boston Bruins, and the debate between periods,’’ Morris said.

Fran Wendelboe, a political consultant and former Republican state representative from New Hampton, said she planned to watch the debate and TiVo the game.

“The big winner tonight will be TiVo,’’ she predicted.

Bob Clegg, a lobbyist and former Republican state senator, said he would use his split-screen to watch the debate and keep the Bruins up in the corner. He thought the debate participants might be as aggressive as the players.

Some activists have no choice. Steve Duprey, a national Republican committeeman, said he would attend the debate and give interviews.

“I would rather be watching the hockey game,’’ he said in an e-mail.

Then there were the voters bound to doing their civic duty.

“Politics is more important for the outcome than sports will ever be,’’ said Wink Van Knowe, a 67-year-old retiree from Campton who attended a pre-debate luncheon discussing conservative issues. “Political decisions determine the country. Sports doesn’t change my life.’’

New Hampshire bars faced the same conundrum. At the Barley House in Concord, where servers during the last presidential primary wore T-shirts saying “The road to the White House begins at the Barley House,’’ general manager Amy Lanman said the bar has several TVs, so clients could choose what to watch.

Blocks away, at the Draft Sports Bar and Grill, there was no question, even though the bar is owned by a Republican state senator. “Definitely the Bruins game,’’ said bartender Ben Kirk. “It’s the playoffs. It doesn’t get any bigger.’’

Rob Werner, a Democrat and Concord city councilor, said he knew the debate would get a viewing audience — even though he planned to be glued to the Bruins game. “I’m sure people in Iowa will be tuning in,’’ Werner said. “They won’t have a hockey game to watch.’’

Ignoring hockey completely, a pundit in Washington, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, posed a different conundrum for committed Republican TV watchers: the CNN debate versus Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News Channel. “How many Republicans does CNN take away from the Fox audience? My hunch: It will take a miracle for CNN to get better ratings than O’Reilly’s show, even with all these Republicans on the air. If CNN actually wins the hour, Republicans are more engaged in this race than anyone thought.’’

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com.

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