They came from all over the greater Milwaukee metro area to sit down together in a large community living room to watch the American electoral process play out.
They filled the modernized, 1931-built Rosebud Cinema in Wauwatosa — Republicans, Democrats and the rare undecided voter in this divided state of Wisconsin — easing onto couches to watch the first presidential debate.
As they gathered, two women from Caledonia asked for Obama buttons for themselves and a couple more for friends — the only other Democrats they knew of in Caledonia.
A young man who had moved to Milwaukee within the past year said, “I was looking for a place to watch the debate. This is pretty cool.”
“I’m from Michigan,” said William Harris, “so I’ve got an interest in both sides.”
College students, even high school students, sat down next to senior citizens.
A Republican state representative, Jeff Stone, came up from Greenfield.
A Democratic candidate for the state Assembly, Bill Kurtz, came from Oak Creek.
County Supervisor Larry Nelson came in from Waukesha.
Check out the replay of Patch's live blog from the presidential debate
Some people even came in politically mixed groups of friends who agreed to disagree.
Sponsored by Patch, the event was something of a twist on technology — instead of watching in isolation at home and then going online to debate the debate with strangers under assumed names, they went out to watch a live broadcast on the big screen, then talk to neighbors face to face.
Maybe not Lincoln-Stephens, but something like an upstate Chautauqua.
Romney better than expected
“I thought it was a great debate,” said Harris, the newcomer from Michigan. “I think Obama had a really tough time. He played a lot of defense. Romney was more aggressive than what I expected.
“They both conveyed their message well, Obama really focusing on the middle class and Romney focusing on small business. They both faced their bases well, and it was a vote grab more than anything else.”
In general, Harris’ opinion was shared — that Romney scored for being more upfront than predicted, Obama less effective than expected, and both more polite than the lead-up led anyone to believe the debate would be.
“I don’t know who won, but I know (moderator) Jim Lehrer lost,” said Steve Smits of Wauwatosa, a Democrat. “There was a lot of articulate speech today. Mitt Romney is articulate and he’s very knowledgeable. But he was arguing with someone who’s very articulate.
“And a huge problem that remains is that anybody can say, ‘I’m going to repeal this, I’m going to reform that, I’ve got this plan,' but as far as we know right now, it’s going to be replaced by fluffy bunnies, puppies and unicorns — we haven’t been given a plan other than, ‘I don’t have the time to explain it to you.’”
“I don’t agree,” said Joan Kizaric of Greenfield. “I think (Romney) outlined his plan very well. He had a roadmap — Massachusetts. Was it perfect? No, but what I was seeing was the failed policies of year after year. There were a lot of promises that Obama made four years ago.
“And yes, he inherited a bad thing. I think everybody here agrees, he inherited a bad thing, but there were four years, and there were a lot of promises made that weren't rectified at all. Reducing the deficit — ‘If I can’t reduce the deficit in four years, I won’t run again.’ (Obama) said that.”
Another in the same group of unaffiliated friends found a middle ground.
“Romney did a much better job of being the populist candidate, kind of being funny, he made a lot of quips tonight, and I think appealing to a lot of younger voters,” said Brittany Rosales.
“Like ‘Big Bird,’ that tweet, he’ll resonate. It’s going to put him on the map as somebody who’s like, ‘I could have a beer with that guy.’ You could actually talk about some things.
“He’s still kind of a robo to me, but Obama was really patchy with his delivery today, so I wonder if teleprompting is really what gives him his magic."