20 Aug 2014
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At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement

The 75 assembled at union hall in Westbury agreed: Obama clear winner.

At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement At Patch Debate Forum, Laughter, Engagement

Two miles away, the President and his Republican challenger went head-to-head in a lively debate that could help decide the 2012 election.

But just beyond the security phalanx surrounding Hofstra University, about 75 people from across Long Island witnessed the historic presidential debate on live television Tuesday night between President Barack Obama and Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

At the end, their verdict was unanimous: Obama was the clear winner.

They are not a representative or statistical sampling of any kind. Those attending were from Long Island and New York City, in a state long ago thought to be solidly in the Democratic column. They were invited by Patch to attend the forum.

National polls show the race much closer and hanging on the outcome in several key swing states. But if Tuesday night's gathering was typical of similar ones across the country, in bar rooms and in living rooms, the Republican challenger took a beating Tuesday night.

When asked by Patch Regional Editor Greg Sleter, the program's moderator, who won the debate, the entire room raised their hands in favor of the President.

Sleter asked again: "No one for Romney?

There was no response.

Most at the gathering had already made up their minds, but Wantagh's Chris Wendt, a self-described "disenfranchised Republican," said the debate helped him decide his vote.

"I'm a moderate and the party has gone too far to the right," Wendt, a corporate manager, said afterward. "In the past I had a great deal of trouble voting for Obama. But Romney is all about the right wing."

"Obama seemed more comfortable, more animated and more patient," said Howard Leb of East Meadow. "In the first debate, (Obama) allowed the governor to pontificate, to say too much. This time he didn't and that's what hurt Romney this time."

"At the end of the debate, what he said about the 47 percent, that was key," said Ronald Weintraub, who traveled by train from Roosevelt Island to attend. "He talked about the veterans. He answered that better."

"He was able to connect with voters in a way that Gov. Romney could not," added Seamus Campbell, of Brooklyn.

The debate got personal for David Kennedy, of North Babylon, when the topic turned to outsourcing.

"I’m glad someone finally mentioned outsourcing. I’m a software engineer and my job got sent to Croatia. I'm probably leaning toward the president in my vote because people who are capitalists like Romney are the one who outsourced my job in the first place," Kennedy said. "But I do have a lot more respect for him (Romney) after watching the debates." 

The room's biggest reactions were to the president's staggered shots at his opponent. They laughed at Obama's reference to Romney's budget axe falling on "Big Bird." They roared over the president's toe-to-toe exchange over pensions, when Obama said his pension was not as big as that of the former Massachusetts governor.

That exchange seemed telling to Robert Saunders, a teacher at Farmingdale State College: "This debate, like any debate, is about optics," Saunders said. "Mitt Romney was overly aggressive and rude. It was a violation of the president's space. That's how it came off."

Wendt agreed: "When (Romney) was standing in front of (Obama) he was rude and overbearing. It was more of an attack." 

Phil Solhes, of Elmont, said he was already decided: "Obama has fulfilled his commitment to to us, especially on foreign policy. Other presidents haven't."

The Patch-sponsored gathering was held at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 headquarters on Merrick Avenue. The guests were invited openly via the various Patch sites across Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens.

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