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Presidential debate entertains Wichita State students

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, at 10:44 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, at 11:02 a.m.

Attending a political debate might not be a college student’s idea of fun for a weeknight, but the first presidential debate Wednesday offered good entertainment at Wichita State University.

About 180 students gathered in Hubbard Hall to watch Republican challenger Mitt Romney and President Obama perform in Denver, and they weren’t disappointed.

“It’s been a fun debate to watch, more fun than any of the other presidential debates that I’ve seen,” Tyler Hiebert, a senior in communications, said as the two men squabbled with each other and moderator Jim Lehrer. “It’s been enjoyable.”

Surprising, too, he said.

“It seems like they’re sticking to the facts a lot more and not so much opinion.”

For Hiebert, who said he is not a fan of either candidate, Romney seemed to stick to a plan to get on the offensive. He was surprised at Romney’s aggressiveness after the former Massachusetts governor appeared more laid-back on the campaign trail, he said.

Romney’s performance may offer the candidate a boost after a rough month of campaign gaffes, Hiebert said.

“I think it’ll help him. I don’t know if it will do enough. He’s definitely down,” Hiebert said.

The students were taking part in a study of presidential debates by Jeffrey Jarman, WSU’s director of debate and associate director of the Elliott School of Communication. It is the third election cycle for the study.

Jarman said he is gathering data about how people evaluate candidates’ statements. The study also is intended to gather data about the effects of the change in the presidential debate format to six 15 -minute segments, Jarman said.

The students who attended received course credit, or extra credit, to participate in the study.

There were several times when they laughed as the two candidates fenced over the economy, the deficit, entitlements and more. They were amused as they talked over Lehrer and tried to go after each other before moving on to other segments.

There was a sense that at last they were seeing a real debate. The format seemed to allow the two candidates to directly challenge statements made by the other.

Alexandra Nguyen, a senior in communications at WSU, said that for a first debate, the event was a lot more dynamic than she expected.

“Usually the first debate is pretty boring,” she said. “This one seemed pretty aggressive for a first debate.’

Usually the incumbent is on the defensive while the challenger attacks his record, she said.

While Romney started out aggressively, Obama flipped to the offensive as the debate continued.

“I feel Romney is doing a poor job of being aggressive. Obama is kind of putting him on the defense,” Nguyen said. “You can kind of see it in his body language; he’s arguing with the moderator and not getting into his points very well.

“Obama addressed viewers instead of engaging Romney, and it kind of got under his skin.”

Still, Romney improved over his past performances on the campaign trail, she said.

“I think he’s doing as lot better as far as presenting himself as a candidate,” Nguyen said.

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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