FORT WORTH - When Kitty and Mark Wooten voted for George W. Bush eight years ago, they had no qualms, no questions, no jitters.
Nearly three weeks ago, as the first 2012 presidential debate began, they weren't as certain in their choice of this year's GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
But his performance in that debate, and in Monday night's final debate, convinced the Fort Worth Republicans they are right to back Romney - as they did John McCain - over Democrat President Barack Obama.
"At first I thought I was voting against Obama, but now I'm voting for Romney," said Kitty Wooten, a 57-year-old interior designer. "This election is more important than [those in 2004 and 2008].
"It's a contrast between two totally different directions for our country," she said. "I've never felt this way before."
As they did for the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, the Wootens watched the final debate at their home with a small group of friends - mostly fellow members of their "Scripture Sistas" Bible study group and their spouses - after sharing a chili dinner.
Once they saw the debate setting, with Romney and Obama sitting at a table with moderator and veteran newsman Bob Schieffer of Fort Worth, many in the group chuckled.
"They are going to sit within striking distance, aren't they," said Becky Young of Fort Worth.
Monday's 90-minute debate focused on foreign policy.
When Obama spoke out strongly early, saying he was glad that Romney now recognizes that al-Qaeda is a top threat, Mark Wooten - a 57-year-old credit card processor and self-described talk show junkie - leaned in to talk to his wife. "He's going on the attack," he said.
As Obama talked about security threats, Kitty Wooten shook her head. "Schieffer's just letting him roll," she said, echoing criticism directed at the moderator before the debate began.
As the debate veered into jobs and the economy, Kitty Wooten looked at her friends. "I thought this debate was about foreign policy," she said. And when Obama spoke about how Iran would not have a nuclear weapon as long as he is president, Kitty Wooten wryly smiled. "It's only going to be for a couple of months," referring to the time she hopes Obama has left in the White House.
The Wootens gave the first debate to Romney and said the second was essentially a draw between the two candidates. But they were split on the third debate.
Mark Wooten said he believes it was a draw, but he thinks Obama hurt himself by talking down to Romney and complimenting his administration too much. His wife, meanwhile, said Obama had a stronger performance, "but an incumbent president should be stronger." She added that she believes Romney made "some great points."
No matter who won or lost Monday night, the Wootens say all of this year's presidential debates helped them learn more about Romney, especially regarding his character and experience.
And they like what they see.
"I've learned he is more solid, he's not just a business guy," Mark Wooten said. "He's well rounded. I think he really cares about America and we've been encouraged to see that."
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610