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Viewing the Romney-Obama debate in battleground Ohio: a tribal experience

There's much cheering and a close watch on social media as two partisan crowds in Ohio, a state that could swing the election, track the ebb and flow of momentum in Tuesday's presidential debate.

By Staff writer / October 17, 2012

Romney supporters watch the second presidential debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama at Marshall's Restaurant and Bar, on Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio. Three weeks before the presidential election, both parties are working hard to get their candidates elected. Ohio is a key battleground state.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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Columbus, Ohio

What do you do when you’re invited to two parties on the same night? Easy. You go to both.

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Staff writer

Linda Feldmann is a staff writer for the Monitor based in Washington.

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And so it was on Tuesday night, both the Romney and Obama campaigns here in Columbus, Ohio – the heart of the ultimate battleground state – set up “debate-watching parties” to cheer on their respective candidates.

A quick check on Mapquest revealed that they were taking place only about three miles apart, and voilà, a party-hopping strategy was born: We (your correspondent and her colleague, Monitor photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman) would start out at the Romney event, then after about 40 minutes, jump in our car and go over to the Obama event.

After all, we didn’t want to appear biased. And there was so much at stake for each side: President Obama was under intense pressure to step up his game after a lackluster performance in the first debate two weeks ago. Mitt Romney, riding high from his Oct. 3 triumph, had an opportunity to build on the momentum that has turned the race into a dead heat.

Who would attend these events? And how would the partisans react? The Romney tribe – top Ohio campaign staff, volunteers, and supporters, about 130 people in all – gathered at a sports bar called Marshall’s. Chris Lockwood, the US editor of The Economist, visiting from London, was also in the house. We counted 12 TVs, all tuned to Fox News. The libations flowed freely.  

To be sure, each side cheered on its man and snorted derisively at the opposition. But in fact, there was also a fair amount of silent, attentive listening – and apparent monitoring of social media on smart phones and laptops. These were serious politicos.

Mr. Romney won applause and laughter when he turned the tables on Mr. Obama over the bailout of the auto industry. It was the president, in fact, who “took Detroit bankrupt,” Romney said. Romney’s mention of “that pipeline from Canada,” the Keystone XL pipeline, which he supports, in contrast to Obama, also won applause.

When Romney stood his ground in the face of attempted interruptions by Obama – “You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking,” Romney said –his supporters cheered. This contrasts with the reactions of undecided voters, who (we later learned from focus groups) did not like the moments when the two contenders moved into close physical proximity and talked over each other and over the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley.

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