NORWALK, Conn. – It was a "solid debate," one Norwalk supporter of President Barack Obama said Wednesday night, acknowledging that it wouldn't sway his opinion.
Michael Kalogerides was one of about 50 people sitting in the Silver Star Diner on Connecticut Avenue, swelling the attendance at the monthly Democracy for America meeting for a debate party. The group listened to local Democratic politicians in the hour preceding the debate, then cut former mayor Bill Collins short as Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney began their long-awaited face to face meeting, as shown on a big screen television tuned to MSNBC.
Obama got "Zinger Number One," one man said, after Romney outlined a tax plan with different specifics than he has previously discussed and the president replied, "His big, bold plan is 'never mind.'" The group watched with studious expressions as the debate unfolded, laughing occasionally, as when Obama said in reference to Romney's comment that changes to Medicare won't affect today's seniors, "If you're 54 or 55 you might want to listen."
They applauded when Obama mentioned the trillion-dollar debt he walked into when he began his presidency and later, when he said it was time to end tax breaks for oil companies.
Yet the mood was not upbeat when the debate ended. "I'm certainly not unbiased," said Elsa Peterson Obuchowski, organizer of the meeting and an Obama supporter. "I did wish he contradicted Romney more forcefully." As she spoke, Ed Schultz of MSNBC mentioned Romney's assertion that Obama would be cutting $716 billion out of Medicare. Obuchowski said that was an example of Obama not doing as well as he might have hoped. "Why didn't he pounce on that and explain?" she asked.
Kalogerides thought that instead of reiterating points, Obama should have challenged Romney more. "It was interesting to watch them speak for such a length of time uninterrupted, and I don't think it's not going to sway my opinion," he said. "I think there were certain things he could have improved upon but nobody is perfect in everything they say or do."
Outside the large room, other people watched the debate from booths that also had a television overhead. Eben Grades of Norwalk and Sydney Atkinson of New Canaan go to the diner every Wednesday night, so the debate did not drawn them there. Yet they were keenly interested.
"I'm partial to Obama, but I think Romney did an amazing job. I was surprised at how well he did," Atkinson said.
Grades, a registered Democrat, said, "I think they both did very well. I didn't see anything from either of them that would have swayed a committed supporter."
Grades and Atkinson thought both men looked like they enjoyed debating. They agreed that the debate probably hadn't changed anyone's mind, but Grades said it might not matter, as a key element might be getting people to the polls. "It might be an enthusiasm game instead of a persuasion game," he said. "Enthusiasm might carry the day."