By ALLEN G. BREED
AP National Writer
With the baseball playoffs and Monday Night Football to compete with, even free pizza and soda couldn’t entice more than a handful of students to the Tulane University Political Science Department’s viewing party for the final presidential debate. And, as appears to be the case with the vast majority of Americans, most came with their minds pretty well made up.
Tulane junior Brian Bickers’ T-shirt made clear his support for President Barack Obama: “Bin Laden is dead. General Motors is alive.”
With polls showing Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in a virtual dead heat, both sides were counting on the debate to pick up some stragglers _ or at least solidify their bases. But in gatherings in swing states like Colorado and Pennsylvania, and at colleges in Louisiana and the coveted state of Florida, people seemed content to dance with the ones who brought them.
In Pittsburgh, about 50 people gathered at the city’s Jewish Community Center for a debate-watching forum sponsored by J Street Pittsburgh, a nonpartisan group that seeks a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The aroma of fresh popcorn wafted from a festive wheeled cart, and American and Israeli flags hung from the ceiling.
Polls have shown Obama’s support among Jewish voters slipping from four years ago. But this JCC crowd was largely _ and loudly _ pro-Obama.
There were hearty chuckles when, after Romney talked about the tumult in the Middle East, Obama rejoined that “a few weeks ago, you said our biggest geopolitical threat was Russia.” And several people oohed when the president said that when he visited Israel, “I didn’t take donors. I didn’t do fundraisers.”
Attorney Mark Frank, 63, was glad to see a more assertive Obama showed up for Monday’s debate. He especially enjoyed the moment when the president responded to Romney’s comment about the size of the U.S. Navy with a quip about how “we don’t use horses or bayonets anymore.”
Moderator Scott Morgenstern, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, was disappointed that neither candidate mentioned the peace process.
At Denver’s Cowboy Lounge, about 50 people gathered for a Romney watch party cheered their candidate’s performance, especially when the Republican steered the conversation to domestic issues. The crowd also whooped when Romney talked about unemployment and health care.
While the GOP crowd’s attention strayed to the football game about halfway through the debate, the 80 or so Democrats at a Planned Parenthood shindig at the nearby Beauty Bar were glued to the contest in Florida _ perhaps because they could win drinks and T-shirts for following along.
Many Denver Democrats were dismayed by the president’s sleepy performance at the recent Denver debate. But there were grins of relief all around Monday night.
But the challenger won over at least one Colorado Democrat Monday.
Watching from home, former deputy mayor Fidel “Butch” Montoya had been looking for a reason to stick with Obama. But Monday’s debate pushed him into the Romney camp.
At the debate site in Boca Raton, Fla., hundreds of students gathered on a soccer field to watch the face-off on inflatable screens.
William Lopez, a 29-year-old accountant who watched the debate with friends who attend Lynn University, said Romney impressed him with his promise of creating millions of jobs in the U.S.
Andy Auger, 22, an international relations major at Lynn, said he wasn’t sure which candidate could be called the winner. He still plans to vote for Obama, but said Romney acquitted himself well.
For the first two debate parties at Tulane, several dozen students filled the plastic chairs and desks set aside to watch C-SPAN’s broadcasts on a big screen. But on Monday, it looked as if Thomas Langston, the political science department head, might be eating cold pizza for the rest of the week.
Before the debate started, the professor encouraged the dozen and a half students to raise their hands if they heard something they liked, regardless of which candidate they preferred.
But every hand that went up was in support of Obama.
Senior Jonathan Pick raised his hand when Romney answered a question about former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The New Orleanian said there was nothing the former Massachusetts governor could say would persuade him to vote for him.
Besides, as a senior on the brink of entering the job market, he wasn’t all that interested in either candidate’s foreign policy stands.
Morgan Wolfe, a 20-year-old junior from Riverside, Conn., was the only Romney supporter in the classroom. Wolfe, who will be casting his first vote in a presidential election, said Romney’s performances during the debates have only strengthened his support for him.
As Bickers, the student with the Bin laden/GM T-shirt, suspected, Romney said nothing to win his vote. But Obama didn’t impress him all that much either.
It will be up to the pundits _ and soon the voters _ to decide who carried the debates.
Allen G. Breed is a national writer, based in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at features(at)ap.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/(hash)!/AllenGBreed
Associated Press writers Jesse Washington in Pittsburgh, Kristen Wyatt in Denver, Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans, and Matt Sedensky in Boca Raton, Fla., also contributed to this story.