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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.

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Perhaps the most emotionally involved debate-watcher in the room was Pamela Lanier of Columbus, who shook her fist at the TV screen when Obama spoke about small businesses.

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Staff writer

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

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“I’m a small-business owner,” Ms. Lanier told Ms. Freeman. “Obama wasn’t in there turning on the lights and emptying the trash. I employ five women.”

Time now to migrate to the Obama tribe, gathered in a movie theater at the Ohio State University (OSU). We walk in to a sea of faces – mostly college students, some campaign volunteers and staff, and the Democratic nominee for Ohio’s Third Congressional District, Joyce Beatty – all trained on giant Romney and giant Obama on the big screen. It’s tuned to MSNBC, of course. 

During the ride over, we missed the discussion of contraception (we later learned), which probably played well with this crowd. But there were other moments for the Obama fans to cheer, such as when Ms. Crowley backed up Obama on the question of whether he had called the Sept. 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, an act of terror in his Rose Garden appearance on Sept. 12.

“He did in fact, sir,” Crowley said, contradicting Romney. The Obama supporters at OSU erupted in cheers.

A closer look at the transcript reveals that Obama’s reference to “acts of terror” is not clearly about Benghazi. And he did for days continue to blame a YouTube video for the violence, not terrorism. But the instant verdict by Crowley allowed Obama to score a temporary point.

When Romney’s answer on gun control morphed into a discussion of child-bearing, this statement brought an audible gasp from the crowd: “To tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone – that's a great idea.”

“Did he just say that?!” an audience-member responded incredulously.

But it was Obama’s final flourish of the debate that brought on the biggest cheer: He finally dropped a reference to Romney’s recorded private comment slamming “the 47 percent.”

“I believe Governor Romney is a good man. He loves his family, cares about his faith,” Obama said. “But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility – think about who he was talking about.”

People on Social Security, Obama continued. And veterans, students, soldiers, low-wage workers.

After failing to bring up the infamous 47 percent remark in the first debate, to the dismay of the president’s Democratic base, Obama had finally gotten in his dig.

“This time he found his voice,” said Sherry Girves, an Obama volunteer, after the debate.

Said a student: “I’m so glad I skipped studying to go to this.”

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