DENVER — MTV News tracked down a pair of undecided voters in the days leading up to Wednesday night's (October 3) first presidential debate to see if anything they heard from President Obama and Republican challenger and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney helped tip them in one direction or the other.
Voting in her first election, Denver's Kaitlin Long, 21, a senior majoring in marketing at the University of Colorado - Denver who works nearly full-time at a local Express clothing store, was excited to hear what the men would say in the first of three presidential debates. Among the issues she was concerned about going into Wednesday's event were the economy and college loans, especially the latter, since she is paying more than $23,000 a year in tuition as an out-of-state student. Lang said she's done a lot of research on the candidates, but when it came time to register to vote, she put down "unaffiliated."
Before the debate: "It changes from day to day," she said Tuesday of which way she was leaning. "Some days I'm like, 'Obama's really cool, he has some great plans.' But then other days it's like, 'Wow, he sounds full like he's full of it. I don't know if I trust him.' And I'm like, 'Romney sounds really great when he says this, but how do I know? There's nothing really to back it up because he hasn't been president yet.' I don't know what to base my opinions on, so I'm hoping that this will help clear everything up." She was specifically interested in Romney's views on abortion rights, as well as both candidates' plans to fix the spiraling debt and put through comprehensive immigration policy.
After the debate: Lang watched the debate at a downtown Denver bar with friends and said it seemed as if Obama was flustered while Romney came off as cool, calm and collected. "There was a lot of great issues discussed, but I still don't really know where I stand," she said afterward. "It seemed like they both talked in a lot of circles. So I definitely want to see more."
She really liked what Romney had to say about making Medicare more affordable for lower-income Americans while making it more expensive for the wealthy to even the playing field on that entitlement program. "But at the same time, Obama made some awesome points about cutting the deficit ... so it was hard. I really called it a close call."
Most disappointing for Lang was the lack of focus on issues affecting her generation, especially dealing with student debt and fixing Social Security for the future. "Right this second I would pick Romney," she said. "But for the November election I'm still not sure."
While Lang hung at Yard House to watch the debate, thousands of DU students, families and locals gathered in the center of campus to watch at an event dubbed DebateFest. Sitting on hay bales and huddled together under blankets on the ground to ward off the sudden late-day chill in the air, they provided a running barometer of how the rivals were doing.
Obama's line about keeping tuition low earned a roar, but then catcalls erupted when Romney pressed well beyond his time on the topics of Medicare and federal regulation. Obama's line about Obamacare helping to keep kids on their parents' insurance plans until age 26 and a nod to the repeal of don't ask, don't tell got loud whoops as well.
Even as her fellow students shivered outside, MTV's Power of 12 team also caught up with politically savvy on-the-fence voter Alexandra Gardner, 25, who comes from a family that includes both Democrats and Republicans. Gardner, who was not only working as a runner for NBC News and student media representative in the days before the debate, but also as an usher inside Magness Arena, said beforehand that seeing both men up-close-and-personal might help her make a choice.
Before the debate: "I'm hoping they talk a bit about education, health care, unemployment ... because that's something that's really important to me," she said while standing in the bustling media filing center just hours before the showdown was to begin. "I'm about to graduate and I'm going to have to look for a job, so I want to be able to find a job. I've spent all these years educating myself."
And though she said a solid plan on dealing with the $15 trillion U.S. debt would certainly impress her, a turn-off would be talk denying the existence of global warming and brushing off the need to live in a more sustainable manner or showing a disrespect for the other candidate. "Composure, you can definitely get your points across and not be mean to another individual," she said in a call for civility.
After the debate: "I think I'm a little bit more confused than I was even going into it," said Gardner, who watched the two candidates duke it out inside the hall from a spot on the floor right in front of Obama. "I think there was just a lot of back-and-forth. ... It reminded me that I need more time reading and researching outside of these debates to make me more informed."
She wasn't totally won over by either side, but Gardner said the vigorous disagreements got her even more excited about the election. And though most pundits, Republican and Democrat, seemed to agree that Romney handily won the first contest, Gardner praised the president's eloquence and felt he came out on top. "He spoke about a lot of issues that are important to me and I think he's just a really powerful speaker," she said. "After tonight it really didn't swing me one way or another ... I think it's going to be a culmination of a lot of things."
Who do you think won the first presidential debate? Let us know in comments below.
Stick with MTV's Power of 12 throughout the 2012 election season.