What Hofstra University Students Are Saying About the Debate

5 years ago

The second debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at Hofstra University had everything the first debate didn’t have: an actively engaged Obama, a feisty, in-your-face Romney, and a moderator in CNN’s Candy Crowley who didn’t take any crap and fact checked the candidates on the spot.

It was exciting stuff. 


Oct. 16, 2012 - Hempstead, New York, U.S. - U.S. BARACK OBAMA (R) and Republican presidential nominee MITT ROMNEY attend their second presidential debate at Hofstra University. (Credit Image: © Wang Lei/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com)

I graduated from Hofstra in May with an M.A. in Journalism, so I got an invite to a debate watch on campus. I couldn’t be in the actual arena—those Hofstra tickets went to students via lottery—but it was cool to experience such a historic event even from a distance.

I got to the Hofstra campus late in the afternoon and was greeted by an army of reporters, security personnel, and a party atmosphere among the students. Chris Matthews of MSNBC was broadcasting live from an outdoor set near the student center and every time the camera panned the gathered students, a roar would go up and signs would wave furiously.

Volunteers handed out free coffee, a student marching band came by playing “Hail to the Chief,” and the sound of helicopters merged with the buzz among the students, as I couldn’t help but get caught up in the party atmosphere.

One girl just walked around with a sign that said, “Who let the dogs out,” with photos of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on it.

Image Credit: Christal Roberts

I spoke to a couple of students about what they wanted to see from the debate and got some interesting answers. Courtney Pilnick, a Hofstra sophomore majoring in physician’s assistant studies was concerned with health care issues.

 “I think everyone, if you’re in America should have the right to have health care and be taken care of by a doctor in any form.” 

Image Credit: Christal Roberts

Jonathan Perrone, a Romney supporter and a senior studying business entrepreneurship had his own concerns.

 “I’m hoping he [Romney] definitely brings up Libya, the Benghazi attack, just because that’s been such a strong issue the last few weeks.  That’s something that should be talked about.”

And it was talked about.  In fact there were two pivotal moments in the debate during the discussion on the Benghazi attack.  The first was when Obama angrily rebutted Romney’s accusation that the day after the attack, Obama went to a political fundraiser.

“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people that we are going to find out exactly what happened.  This was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.  And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.

“The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive.”

The second moment was when Romney challenged Obama on that statement in the Rose Garden, saying Obama didn’t call the attack “an act of terror.”  Romney aggressively challenged the president three times about the phrase, in what he thought was a gotcha moment. 

“I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror,” Romney said.

When Candy Crowley corrected Romney, the gotcha was on the other foot.  Speaking of Crowley, I think she did a great job.  Not Martha Raddatz great, because that would have been hard to top, but considering both men were determined to have their say, time constraints be damned, she did good.

Right before the debate I went to a panel discussion moderated by Susan J. Drucker, professor of journalism, media studies and public relations at Hofstra called “A Viewer’s Guide to Televised Debates.”  The panelists had a packed house for a talk about how a viewer’s perception of a debate can be shaped by camera angles and social media.

Once the debate started and Obama kicked off his first statement with the line, “Candy, what Governor Romney said just isn’t true,” in response to Romney saying the president “took Detroit bankrupt,” you could hear every Democrat in the country cheering.

In response to the last question about what each man thought people should understand about them, Romney began part of his answer with, “I care about 100 percent of the American people.”

Well that was all Obama needed to trot out another cheer-worthy line:

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

After the debate Professor Drucker said the town hall format allowed viewers to measure the candidates as people.

“There was conversation, and there was persuasion and there was drama. I think it brought out the personalities:  the coolness under pressure, the ability to think on one’s feet, or at least appear to think on one’s feet, the interpersonal dynamic with the audience, and with each other.” 

Natalie Bochanis, a recent Hofstra graduate, and an undecided voter was still undecided after the debate.

“This debate actually made it harder because I feel like both Obama and Romney have such good points.”

Nina Vasiljevic, a Hofstra journalism major, was glad the topic of equal pay for women came up. 

“I still think that even though we live in 21st century, the unfortunate truth is that we’re not as equal when it comes to payments, as we think we are.”  

And finally, B. Cooper–Sims, a Mineola resident and Hofstra alumnus was disappointed a question about the Supreme Court didn’t come up.

“With the Romney/Ryan philosophy, if they got in, they could possibly be appointing the next Supreme Court justice. And the possibility of Roe vs. Wade being reversed, that bothers me.”

She added that Romney reminds her of the Manchurian candidate, referring to someone who’s brainwashed to act a certain way when triggered by a code word.

I was sorry when it was all over, but I have my debate watch swag to keep the memories alive.

For more inside student stories on the Hofstra debate, check out Hofstra's student-run news site, Long Island Report.

Christal Roberts is a BlogHer contributing editor, teaches journalism at Hofstra University and urges everyone to go out and vote. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristalRoberts

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