WILKES-BARRE – Prior to watching the first televised debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, his challenger for the Oval Office, King's College student Tristen Riegel said she was undecided on whom she would vote for.
"I really want to decide who I'm voting for and I thought this would help," the 18-year-old freshman from Catawissa said of her reason for attending the annual "Debate Watch" hosted in the Sheehy Student Center by the King's Mass Communications Department.
After viewing the 90-minute forum on WVIA, the local public television station, with about 100 other students, staff and faculty members, Riegel said the debate "was very helpful" in helping her to make a choice. She's now leaning toward Obama.
"He hit on a lot of topics I find important, such as the economy and health care and Medicare. … And I'm definitely interested in tax cuts for the middle class," she said.
Also undecided before the debate began, Devyn English, 19, of Sunbury, said she was looking forward to learning "what each party stands for." She said she wanted to hear "actual issues and not about religion."
After the debate, the freshman said she was disappointed. "It was a lot of back-and-forth and trashing of each other. I feel like nothing really got talked about," she said.
English said was still undecided and predicted her vote will be for "the lesser of two evils," but she will "probably" watch the coming debates to help her make an informed choice.
Before the debate, Tony Cardone said he expected it would only reinforce his vote for Obama. "Romney will be … dodging important questions and will avoid giving details on his true tax policy. I think it will cost him a lot of votes," the 19-year-old sophomore from Nanticoke predicted.
After, Cardone said he thought Romney "came out pretty strong," and that Obama "took a back seat to it," but that the president would come stronger in the next two debates just as he did against John McCain four years ago.
He said Romney pivoted on some questions and "did a lot of barking" but his answers "didn't have a lot of bite." He said the debate "absolutely" reinforced his vote for Obama.
A half hour before the debate began, Mass Communications professor Mike Berry led a discussion about the debate topics and pointed out a Debate Watch Viewing Guide available to the attendees – a sheet of paper with suggestions for questions to keep in mind, such as the evidence each candidate provided to back up his points and how compelling it was.
Answering questions from students, Berry said WVIA was chosen as the TV station for viewing the debate because "it is perceived as being balanced and fair." He also explained the debate format.
When Berry asked for a show of hands on who was decided on a candidate and who was not, the audience was fairly evenly split, which he said was atypical for Pennsylvania voters.
Berry said that for most people who have made up their minds about their vote "these debates will serve to reinforce already pre-existing attitudes. However, for that small percentage of people who have not made up their minds, this is one of the primary sources of information."
Berry said that according to a survey, eight out of 10 undecided voters would be watching Wednesday's debate.
Sasha Lopez, 18, of Allentown, said before the debate, she planned to vote for Obama and didn't think anything would change her mind. After the debate, she said that was still the case.
"Romney was really aggressive, but I didn't really find the substance that impresses," the freshman said.
And while she liked Obama's ideas on unemployment and education, "some of the things that were said (by both candidates) were just said because it's what they think the public wants to hear, rather than what they will actually be doing."
Berry said the college will host DebateWatches for the remaining presidential debates at 9 p.m. on Oct. 16 and 22 and the vice presidential debate on Oct. 11 in the Snyder Conference Room at the Sheehy-Farmer Campus Center, located between North Main and North Franklin streets.