Winene Matthews of Toledo watches the presidential debate.
The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
The first presidential debate brought a few surprises to the crowd of politically attuned viewers, including several who noticed what sounded like different responses from Republican Mitt Romney than they had previously heard in the campaign.
Seventeen people responded to The Blade's last-minute open invitation broadcast on social media and The Blade's Web site Wednesday afternoon to come to PizzaPapalis at Monroe and Huron streets in downtown Toledo. The restaurant management agreed to switch all the flat-screen TVs in the bar to CNN. Some of the participants drank beer and ordered food, others sipped water. All watched closely on the four flat-screen TVs mounted on to the walls.
Winene Matthews, 42, of Toledo, a food service worker at the University of Toledo and a member of United Auto Workers Local 12, said after Mr. Romney finished his explanation of how his tax plan wouldn't lower the burden on high-income taxpayers, "Romney's full of it.’’
"He didn't care anything about the middle class when he first came out, so it's hard to believe what he's talking about," Ms. Matthews said.
Matt Barry, 38, of Northwood, a private security officer who was wearing a Romney T-shirt, was watching the graph line flowing on the bottom of the screen and reflecting the reactions of independent voters who were watching CNN.
"Romney has really been going after him on everything. When Obama's been talking, he's been flatlining pretty much. It means they're not buying what he's saying," Mr. Barry said. He said the debate ended in a virtual tie, and he said he thought Mr. Obama had not won over independent voters.
"Obama took a couple of shots, and Romney did well responding," Mr. Barry said.
The Rev. Stanley Clark, 50, pastor of a Baptist church and owner of an adult-care facility, said Mr. Romney didn't fill in the blanks of what he would do if Obamacare is repealed.
"He said, 'Well, I have a strategy, but it's lengthy.' It tells me he really doesn't have anything," Mr. Clark said. "If he did, he'd tell the American people what it is."
Perry Ohlsen, 36, of Roselle, Ill., a salesman for a steel company and an Obama supporter, said 20 minutes into the debate he thought they were tied.
"I think they're evenly paced right now. I question whether Romney's claim is enough to keep revenue at the current level. We need to increase the level. We need to pay off the deficit," Mr. Ohlsen said, adding that some of his opinion was in support for a fellow Chicagoan.
As the debate neared its end, Mr. Ohlsen said he thought President Obama clicked better with the TV audience.
"When Obama has a key point he wanted Americans to know, he definitely looks at the screen," he said. "Romney hasn't looked at the audience once." He thought that conveyed a disconnect from the middle class.
Lee Henson, 62, of Toledo, a retired General Motors Powertrain worker and trustee of the United Auto Workers Local 14, said after the exchange on taxes that what he was hearing from Mr. Romney was different from what he's been hearing during the campaign.
"He says that by adding more jobs that somehow that's going to make up the difference. He hasn't really clearly said how he's going to cut the deficit if he's going to cut taxes at the same time. That doesn't click with me. You're going to have to get some revenue somewhere."
After the debate, he said President Obama "got off to a slow start. I thought Romney was a little more aggressive."
Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney managed to squeeze some laughs out of the PizzaPapalis audience: the President when he noted that Donald Trump probably doesn't think of himself as a small businessman or small anything; Mr. Romney when he mentioned "Obamacare," and then apologized, saying, "no disrespect."
Jeremiah Van Buren, 25, of Toledo, who works part time for the Lucas County Board of Elections, was not happy to hear either candidate talk about raising more revenue through taxation.
"Taxation doesn't work at all. It just creates more burden," Mr. Van Buren said. "It seems like neither one of them understands economics."
Scott Crockett, 50, of Perrysburg, a factory manager, said he's "had enough of Obama," and nothing that he saw in the debate made him change his mind.
"I don't think President Obama has a leg to stand on with economics. I think he does not have any substance to back up what he says," Mr. Crockett said. "He's had four years to do something, and he hasn't done anything."
Brandon Bitterle, 39, of LaPorte, Ind., who was in the area because of his small industrial-refrigeration business, said, "I think you've got a good speaker and someone who is very knowledgeable, and his speaking isn't overcoming the facts," referring to Mr. Obama as the better orator and Mr. Romney as having knowledge. He said both candidates were throwing in too many anecdotal references, and he wanted a more meaty discussion.
"There's too much, 'I know a lady here, I know a guy there.' And they both do it," Mr. Bitterle said. He said he liked Mr. Romney's responses.
Scott Boyer, 27, of Toledo, a welder, said with most of the debate over that Mr. Obama was winning just by being more "confident."
"Romney just seems nervous, very nervous. He's slightly rambling. He blinks like a maniac. He blinks like a robot," Mr. Boyer said.
In his closing remarks, the President said, ‘‘The auto workers that you meet in Toledo or Detroit take such pride in building the best cars in the world, not just because of a paycheck, but because it gives them that sense of pride, that they're helping to build America. And so the question now is how do we build on those strengths.’’
Mr. Obama's shout-out to Toledo brought cheers in the restaurant.
Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, said Toledo was lucky to be mentioned in the debate. He said Mr. Romney responded to erroneous claims made about him in attack ads, such as that he plans to cut the taxes of wealthy people.
"I think Mitt Romney hit it out of the park. He accentuated and explained everything so concisely and it was exactly what people were expecting him to deliver," Mr. Stainbrook said.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern praised President Obama's performance in the debate.
"President Obama offered specific, concrete plans to restore middle-class security for folks all across Ohio, while Mitt Romney resorted to more lies and ‘zingers’ because he knows his history as an outsourcing pioneer is not going to work here in the Buckeye State," Mr. RedfeSern said.
Lucas County Democratic Party Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler did not return calls seeking comment.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.