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Postcard from Hofstra University: Watching the second Presidential debate

by Amrita Tripathi

There was a buzz in the air at the Hofstra University media filing center, especially when the assembled 4,000 members of the media saw that we had a fight on our hands. The President showed up tonight with his game on. There was a moment where it looked like it might come to punches, but luckily for the state of the nation, an all-out brawl was quickly averted.

Unfortunately, we couldn't get into the debate hall, unlike some lucky students and the 82 uncommitted voters chosen by Gallup. At the media center, there were furious typing and tweeting and laughs and sighs as well as an aww or two (not for the candidates but for the woman who forgot part of her question. Obama could be heard telling her, "You're doing great".)

The scene before the debate was hectic but festive. Journalists swarmed the campus, trying to talk to students and politicos like Howard Dean, the former Democratic candidate in 2004, who made no effort to disguise his opinion of the media.

The scene before the debate was hectic but festive. AP

Earlier, Tea Party supporters clashed with liberal supporters, as cops forced a group of us to walk through. There were some scattered fringe groups trying to make a statement as well, though we did see someone for climate change wearing a polar bear hat. What can you say?

For all the talk about voter apathy this time compared to 2008, the students I spoke to at the Hofstra University before the debate were incredibly aware of what's at stake!

"As a senior who is going to try to live in the world, there's a lot at stake in terms of student debt, cost of living and minimum wage," said Phil, a 21 year old drama major.

"A lot of young people were able to hop on board" Obama's hope-driven campaign in 2008, he says, "But after four years of Obama, the change hasn't been as immediate as maybe it was presented. I understand why people are less..." he trailed off, but added, "Most of the people I talk to are voting so they can vote against Mitt Romney, not necessarily for Obama."

When I ask Hannah, also a drama major, about the trend (pro-Obama) amongst women, she says: "I feel as a woman there's a certain way I should vote because of some beliefs of parties, that has been taken into account, civil rights, rights of my own body and decision."

Twenty one year old political science student Jesse tells me he and his friends and family are very political and plan to vote. He sounds pretty clear about what's at stake this election.

"What's at stake is how we deal with the national debt - the first thing the President will have to deal with is the fiscal cliff in January. The way the government deals with it will affect the next few decades," he says, explaining the ramifications of his vote.

Best chant of the evening from the gathered supporters: "2-4-6- 8! Church and state don't ovulate!" The worst: "Make out, not war!" Though the latter must have been fun for the two kids who kissed for at least five minutes to make sure they got their time on TV. More confusingly, one person held up a sign that declared, "Kiss your vote goodbye."

According to some reports, Hostra University raised more than $4 million to pay for this event, including $1.5 million to the Commission for Presidential Debates. But the benefits in terms of brand building was priceless!

The media filing center doubled up as the "spin alley, as it's called, where designated representatives from both side worked overtime to, well, spin this as a victory for their candidates — even before the debate ended. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was the biggest name on the GOP side, and was in full fighting form. "Someone told President Obama to drink his red bull!" he cracked, "But he can't defend his track record."

We journalists were fed and hosted quite well, and almost lulled into complacency with fairly good weather today. Our only complaint was the long wait afterwards to find a bus to get off campus. But the sight of David Axelrod on a little golf-cart type buggy leaving the venue almost made the wait worthwhile.

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