Ohio Democrats rally around home TVs for Obama

At a debate-watching party for Obama supporters at a home in the suburbs of this key Ohio city, the reactions to Wednesday’s debate came mostly in laughter: scoffing guffaws for Mitt Romney, appreciative chuckles for President Obama.

When Romney said the middle class is being crushed under Obama’s economy, they chortled. When Obama countered that Romney’s bold new tax idea is “never mind,” they giggled.

But mostly they sat tensely around a flat-screen TV in the living room of Stephanie Cartwright and husband Jack Guttenberg.

It was not a night for persuading, but more for sharing anxieties with fellow fans of the president, who have in recent weeks watched poll numbers shift in their direction but who fear what could go awry, with the election still weeks away.

“I wouldn’t say I’m excited. I’d say I’m nervous,” Guttenberg said before the debate began. “The election can’t get here fast enough. Mistakes could be costly.”

The Obama campaign said 4,400 such parties were held nationally Wednesday, including 204 in Ohio alone. They were advertised through the campaign’s Web sites, with such do-it-yourself titles as “Obama vs. Romney Showdown at Cathy’s House!” and “Cuttin’ through Politics,” hosted at a Cleveland barbershop.

While most of the Romney campaign’s watch parties were at campaign offices and restaurants, the Obama campaign encouraged volunteers such as Cartwright and Guttenberg to host parties themselves, part of a continuing effort to organize neighborhoods house-to-house on Obama’s behalf.

The supporters said they appreciated the opportunity to cheer Obama without apology, to jeer Romney without back talk.

“They know they’re not going to have to deal with their right-wing uncle if they come here,” said Carol Mohr, 47, a freelance editor who serves as this neighborhood’s volunteer team leader, organizing weekly phone banks and canvasses.

Plus, a watch party is, by definition, a party — complete with snacks and beer.

“It’s like going to the hockey game, instead of watching it on TV,” said Betsy Bhasker, 53, who works for the Columbus public schools, explaining the appeal of watching with fellow volunteers instead of at home alone.

Indeed, the group setting encouraged a certain amount of heckling.

“Fact-check!” shouted Jeffrey St. Clair, 69, clad in a T-shirt bearing the likeness of Obama, after Romney said his tax plan would not worsen the deficit.

“That’s a lie,” he sighed after Romney charged that the Democratic health-care plan has sliced $716 billion from Medicare.

Free from Twitter and its instant analysis, Obama’s supporters declared him the winner.

“He’s calm, he’s cool, he’s collected,” said Michael Gardner, 61, who said he started a group of one — Republicans for Obama. “He’s prepared and truthful.”

But John Raines, 39, a political-science graduate student at Ohio State University, said Romney had strong moments in a debate that he thought swung between the two candidates. Still, he said, that would not be enough for Romney.

“Obama won because Romney needed a game change. He couldn’t tie,” Raines said. “Ties go to the poll leader.”

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