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UTA students generally give Obama high marks in debate

ARLINGTON - Daniel Hunter was curious about what Republican Mitt Romney had to say about Iran and foreign spending in general Monday night, but Romney won't likely win Hunter's vote on Election Day.

The 23-year-old is a pre-law/philosophy major at the University of Texas at Arlington and he's firmly in President Barack Obama's camp.

"I'm 98 percent sure I'm voting for Obama," Hunter said as he helped organize a debate watch gathering on the UTA campus Monday night. "There is very little chance that anything he [Romney] could say would get me to vote for him."

Still, Hunter was willing to listen to Romney. He was among about 230 UTA students who gathered to watch the third and final presidential debate on a jumbo screen located in the Maverick Activities Center, or the MAC. The event, held in the Lone Star auditorium, was organized by UTA's Honors College Council and The Shorthorn student newspaper. The event included live text polling and surveys.

Foreign policy was the focus of Monday night's debate with issues such as the Middle East, the United State's presence in Afghanistan and trade with China were on the minds of students arriving to watch the debate at UTA. Students partook in politics and popcorn. Many laughed Obama's "horses and bayonets" quip and chuckled when Romney and Obama disagreed.

"I'm interested in what Mitt Romney's relations with Iran will be like - if Mitt would sit down with Iran to talk about disarming," Hunter said before the debate.

Hunter, who is concerned with education issues on the home front, said he worries leaders spend too much money abroad.

"I think we need to spend more money domestically," he said.

Many came for extra credit or to learn more. Krystal Morin, 18, came for both. As the debate began, she said she was a blank slate. But by 9 p.m., she was an Obama fan. "I would rather sit next to him on an airplane," Morin said, adding that Romney's body language put her off. "Romney doesn't know how to control his emotions."

By the end of the debate, Hunter remained a staunch Obama supporter. Hunter was representative of the crowd's political leanings - 80 percent polled said Obama won the debate.

Lauren Devoll, a UTA student who attended the GOP convention and helped plan the gathering, said they want to see whether student opinions changed during the debate.

Campus debate watch parties or gatherings were common this fall as the presidential and vice presidential candidates squared off on live television. Throughout the debate season, students invited fellow students via Twitter and Facebook to watch the candidates discuss issues from jobs to the economy to foreign policy.

This was the second debate watch held at UTA - the first debate watch attracted about 200 participants, said Devoll. Among students in attendance were international students who wanted to watch the debates, but can't vote in this country.

Students took part in live text polling, which involved answering multiple choice questions about the debate. Devoll said they hope to have the results analyzed before the election. The debate data is also part of a UTA research looking at how watching presidential debates affects how people evaluate candidates.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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