DURHAM, N.H. — The ground shook. But few opinions did.
On a night when the University of New Hampshire campus was rattled by the small earthquake that struck New England, the undecided voters who joined a few dozen students to watch the second presidential debate at a student center were still undecided afterward. None of the committed voters shifted.
Mitt Romney’s supporters were pleased with how their candidate did. But Obama’s were elated and seemed visibly relieved that the president did not reprise his tepid performance at the first presidential debate.
“I think he was a lot more animated and defended stuff he failed to defend the first time, like his jobs plan,” said Tegan O’Neill, 20, a political science major and student organizer for the Obama campaign who said she was disappointed in him after the first debate.
“Obama did really well,” said Kayla Giuffrida, 22, a graduate student in speech pathology. She said she liked the way Obama challenged the accuracy of Romney’s statements.
Romney’s supporters were happy, too, though they criticized the debate moderator for not giving their candidate as much time to respond to questions as Obama got.
“I thought the moderator was a little biased, but what are you going to do,” said Sarah Jasper, 18, a political science major wearing a Romney sticker who said she was “definitely happy with what I heard from Romney” at the debate.
Another Romney backer, Blaire Gagne, 18, originally from Somerset, Mass., said she thought “Obama definitely came out strong” but that her opinions had not changed. She said she liked what she heard from Romney, though it was difficult to hear sometimes, “because Obama kept interrupting.”
And what about the two undecided voters in the room, the ones both candidates were hoping to impress in a swing state where opinion polls showed the race tightening after the first presidential debate?
They remained on the fence.
Mairead Dunphy, 21, a journalism major, said before the debate started that she was leaning “away from Romney.” Afterward, she gave Obama credit for a good performance, but said she was still making up her mind. Dunphy said the university seemed to lean Democratic, and the campus had been besieged by Obama volunteers seeking to drum up support, but she believed many students had been shocked by the first debate. “The last debate definitely produced a scare on campus. People were like, oh, wait, Romney could win this,” she said.
Leo Ocampo, 19, a political science and international affairs major, said before the debate that he was undecided. Ocampo said his mother was a teacher and that he would probably vote largely on education.
“Obama did a whole lot better than the last debate; he explained his own opinions more,” Ocampo said. “But I don’t think there was a clear winner. Romney did bring up a lot of good points,” he said, mentioning the passage in the debate when Romney talked about helping the coal industry.
Olivia Ferdon, 18, a math major who supports Obama, said she had switched her registration from Connecticut, where she grew up, to New Hampshire, so she could vote in a swing state.