9:41 PM, Nov. 9, 2011
When the Republican presidential debate began tonight, a crowd of about 400 people gathered at a watch party in Oakland University’s student center ranked Mitt Romney and Ron Paul as their favorites.
Yet, as the debate went on, Newt Gingrich kept getting high marks from people for his answers, including from Paul Thomas, 35, of Rochester.
“He just seemed to have better specifics,” Thomas, a Republican auto supply company executive said. “He was more sure of himself.”
For two hours, nearly 400 students, faculty and community members graded the candidates – using electronic clickers to rate them on each answer.
Romney and Gingrich dominated the rankings – with each gaining big favorable numbers on a multiple questions. Also going strong were Ron Paul and Herman Cain.
Cain got big marks and loud applause from the audience for his response to questions about sexual harassment accusations being made against him by multiple women.
“He handled it perfectly,” said Mark Coleman, 57, of Detroit. “I’m planning to vote for him and this hasn’t changed anything for me.”
After spending the first hour of the debate at Oakland University, John Yob, Michigan senior strategist for Cain’s campaign, arrived at O’Connor’s Public House to joined the newly formed Friends of Herman Cain group nearly an hour and a half after the debate began.
Eager to get Cain’s campaign going in Michigan, he is one of a handful of staffers working here for Cain. Yob pointed out that Cain is the first Republican presidential candidate besides Romney to establish a Michigan office.
“I think he’s able to bring new people in to the process to vote,” said Yob, who worked for Gov. Rick Snyder’s campaign.
According to an Oakland University poll taken right after the debate by those grading the candidates, Romney went from getting 25% of the 400 people in attendance to vote for him to 40%. Also making a big climb was Gingrich, who went from having 11% of the crowd’s support to 25% of the crowd.
On the other hand, Marsha Millen, 23, of Detroit, said she wasn’t happy with Cain’s response, either at the debate or before.
“He’s just brushing them off,” she said. “There just too many people coming forward for it not to be true, or at least a bit true.”
Going into the debate, OU sophomore Tina Marks wanted to hear what the candidates had to say about making college more affordable.
She got her wish nearly 90 minutes into the debate. The crowd overwhelmingly said they like Gringrich’s and Paul’s responses, which focused on cutting federal student loans.
Marks didn’t like that.
“So how am I supposed to pay for school then?” she said. “I already a ton of hours, but can’t cover all the costs. Do they just want only rich people to go to college?”
Many in audience said they were pleased OU was selected for the debate.
“It’s a once in a lifetime event,” said OU senior Jeff Valley. “We’re not going to have another one here ever. I’m just happy I get to experience it.”