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Debate-viewers at a downtown Toledo eatery and watering hole saw a more aggressive Barack Obama in the second presidential debate on Tuesday night.
Whether that added up to a victory for Mr. Obama and a defeat for Republican Mitt Romney was another question.
"Definitely Obama is different from the last time, more engaged and aggressive," said Zachary Reaver, 22, a University of Toledo student from Millersport, Ohio, majoring in bioengineering and biochemistry. "Before he was looking down. Now he’s engaged, smiling. I can’t really say who’s winning or losing. I think they’re both actively engaged in answering the questions."
A small crowd of debate watchers followed the presidential pugilistics in the bar of PizzaPapalis Taverna — some of them at the invitation of The Blade through Facebook and social media, others just because they happened to be there.
Paige Strancar, 29, a volunteer coordinator from a nonprofit agency who lives in West Toledo, admitted she's an Obama supporter who was pleased with his performance. She was disappointed when the candidates seemed to be avoiding the issues she was interested in — poverty, women's health, contraception, and education — but said eventually all those topics were touched upon.
"I think it’s a lot of the same old same. We keep hearing a lot about the middle class and five-point plans," Ms. Strancar said about halfway through. By the end, she said, "I'm glad that [Mr. Obama] is being very clear on his point and is calling Romney on some of the facts that he thinks he's presenting."
Jon Stainbrook, 48, of Toledo, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, said it looked as if Mr. Obama was appealing to the voter groups he thinks he still needs to win, including youths, women, and those undecided.
During one question, Mr. Stainbrook gestured to Mr. Obama's image on the screen.
"Look at the blinking, he’s blinking like crazy," Mr. Stainbrook said.
"At least he’s not looking down like he was last debate." He said he thought the debate was "neck and neck."
Ron Rothenbuhler, 65, of Oregon, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, was relieved at the strong performance Mr. Obama was making.
"I believe that he is up for the debate and is doing very good," Mr. Rothenbuhler said after the first couple of questions. "I think he’s going to draw out a lot of the answers we’ve been waiting for from Mr. Romney. He sure ain’t looking down."
Dhanvin Desai, 23, a University of Toledo master's degree student in bioengineering, said after the question about job prospects for college students, “I think Obama won that round. When the first question was asked, Romney didn’t give specific details and Obama did."
Mr. Desai said later that he thought Mr. Obama was coming across as too aggressive, which made him feel sympathy for Mr. Romney. On the other hand, he said, "I think people are going to see that aggressiverness as a sign of being able to stand up for himself."
John Marshall, 60, of Sylvania, a candidate for Lucas County commissioner and retired contractor, wasn't overly impressed by Mr. Obama.
“President Obama keeps complaining that what Romney is putting forward isn’t going to work. He’s basically just in attack mode. It’s more of the last debate but he has a little more energy behind him," Mr. Marshall said.
Frank D’Agostino, 35, a recent transplant from Syracuse, N.Y., to Liberty Center, said he's just "excited to be living in a swing state."
“I think Obama came out swinging and I think it’s a great thing. Romney’s a businessman who will say anything to close the deal and Mr. Obama is calling him on it," said Mr. D'Agostino, a computer technician for the Perrysburg School District.
Nathan Reaver, 25, of Toledo, who was at PizzaPapalis to celebrate his birthday with friends from the University of Toledo where he studies bioengineering, said he was interested in the energy debate that came up early, and he thought Mr. Obama won the point.
"Governor Romney is doing an all-of-the-above strategy. But in this debate he’s focusing on coal and oil, and Obama’s really saying there’s another side, which there really is. I’d like to hear Romney talk more about the other side — the alternative energy side. He kind of skipped over that subject," Mr. Reaver said.
Leslie Chambers, 26, of Toledo, a graduate student in English rhetoric at Ohio State University, analyzed the two candidates' performance, and proclaimed Mr. Romney to be a "sophist" — someone who is more concerned with winning the point than in telling the truth.
"Romney seems to rely on his demeanor to convince people. He does come across as very assured and confident," Ms. Chambers said, noting the numbered points of his economic plan that he ticked off.
Mr. Obama, she said, did a good job of being aggressive and presenting his issues in a way that resonates with American values.
"I thought Obama had a really good response to the immigration question," she said, citing his quick summary of America's immigrant history. "It's the kind of of appeal that's very strong by reminding people of the values that used to define what it means to live in America."
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6058.