Hofstra debate stirs students' interest

Hofstra students watch the debate at the Student Hofstra students watch the debate at the Student Center. (Oct. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

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Jobs, student loans, pay equality and contraception -- it was almost as if the presidential candidates were talking directly to about 300 students attending a debate party last night at Hofstra USA, a popular campus eatery.

Dance music blared and the chili was hot. So were the politics.

"It's a carnival," Connor Gettemy, 20, of Pittsburgh, said as he danced with an American flag sticking out from under a plastic top hat. "One big amusement park."

It was one of four school-organized student watch parties last night -- just yards from the David S. Mack Sports Complex and the showdown between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Prior to the debate, the entire crowd stood for the national anthem, then everyone chanted, "USA, USA." Student vocalists sang on stage, and students blew bubbles provided for the party.

Sirius/XM satellite radio host Pete Dominic broadcast live from the party. The crowd cheered loudly when he asked, "Who's voting?"

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"I'm still undecided but the hype of everything has made me more interested in politics," said Holly Haynes, 19, of Erie, Pa.

The students burst out in cheers when the Hofstra University sign appeared on the screen and each time Hofstra was mentioned.

The vast majority of the students seemed to support Obama as evidenced by the sea of blue signs and cheers each time he spoke. Two women were stopped when they tried to walk away with a cardboard cut-out of the president.

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Amanda Parenteau, 21, a senior from North Yarmouth, Maine, said she supports Romney because she thinks he will ease government regulation. She is a health sciences major.

She nodded her head "yes" as Romney talked about scholarships and said he knows how to bring the economy back. And she listened intently as he talked about creating 12 million new jobs and a rise in pay.

"We lucked out with a question that pertains to college students as the first question," she said. "I think his answer was a bit vague but I think he was trying to be personable because he's been attacked for being so wealthy."

She said she thinks he will stimulate the economy. "Jobs are huge for college students. That's everyone in this room."

But Paige Spinola, 19, of Boston, didn't like Romney's statements about education and Massachusetts scholarships.

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"He's fluffing the truth," the drama student said. "I got one of those scholarships and it was a fraction of the cost and it really only applied if you wind up going to UMass. I actually got more money to come to Hofstra, a private institution."

On the president's answer to the question: "I enjoyed that Obama actually had a plan and he wasn't just saying he's going to get us jobs."

Gasps echoed in the room at Romney's reply to host Candy Crowley's follow-up question about whether the numbers in his plan add up when balancing the budget: "Of course it does," he said.

During discussions about the budget, the students cheered when Obama mentioned Romney's planned cuts to public broadcasting, and Big Bird.

They also cheered when Obama mentioned the strike that left Osama bin Laden dead.

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"I was 6 years old when 9/11 happened and it was probably the first time in my life I didn't feel safe," said Joe Flanagan, 18, a freshman from East Northport who seemed to be leaning toward Obama.

Dan Nelson, 19, of Pembroke, Mass., a registered Democrat, said he was glad the final questioner asked the candidates about misconceptions about themselves.

"I thought the last question was great because it was an opportunity to hear Romney try to humanize himself. But I'm glad Obama finally brought up the 47 percent."

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