By ALLEN G. BREED
AP National Writer
(AP) - With the baseball playoffs and Monday Night Football to compete with, even free pizza and soda couldn't entice more than a handful of students to the Tulane University Political Science Department's viewing party for the final presidential debate. And, as appears to be the case with the vast majority of Americans, most came with their minds pretty well made up.
Tulane junior Brian Bickers' T-shirt made clear his support for President Barack Obama: "Bin Laden is dead. General Motors is alive."
"Tonight is almost certainly not changing my vote," the 20-year-old poli-sci major from Cincinnati declared as he waited for the debate to begin. That said, he postponed mailing in his absentee ballot until after Monday's third and final debate at Florida's Lynn University.
With polls showing Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in a virtual dead heat, both sides were counting on the debate to pick up some stragglers _ or at least solidify their bases. But in gatherings in swing states like Colorado and Pennsylvania, and at colleges in Louisiana and the coveted state of Florida, people seemed content to dance with the ones who brought them.
In Pittsburgh, about 50 people gathered at the city's Jewish Community Center for a debate-watching forum sponsored by J Street Pittsburgh, a nonpartisan group that seeks a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The aroma of fresh popcorn wafted from a festive wheeled cart, and American and Israeli flags hung from the ceiling.
Polls have shown Obama's support among Jewish voters slipping from four years ago. But this JCC crowd was largely _ and loudly _ pro-Obama.
There were hearty chuckles when, after Romney talked about the tumult in the Middle East, Obama rejoined that "a few weeks ago, you said our biggest geopolitical threat was Russia." And several people oohed when the president said that when he visited Israel, "I didn't take donors. I didn't do fundraisers."
"Romney is full of hot air," said Naomi Frankel. "He keeps saying the same thing over and over, but with different sentence structure."
Attorney Mark Frank, 63, was glad to see a more assertive Obama showed up for Monday's debate. He especially enjoyed the moment when the president responded to Romney's comment about the size of the U.S. Navy with a quip about how "we don't use horses or bayonets anymore."
"I get the feeling the governor was suffering from a bit of the malaise the president felt in the first debate," he said. "He (Obama) just seems to be more on target."
Scott Morgenstern, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, who served as moderator of a JCC debate discussion, was disappointed that the peace process was barely mentioned by the candidates.
"It's an issue they purport to be concerned about, but not willing, perhaps in the context of the election, to talk about it," he said. Overall, he said, "I don't think they differentiated themselves in any way that had not been made clear before."
At Denver's Cowboy Lounge, about 50 people gathered for a Romney watch party cheered their candidate's performance, especially when the Republican steered the conversation to domestic issues. The crowd also whooped when Romney talked about unemployment and health care.
"I'd definitely say he's doing a better job," said Shawn Dean, 22, a senior business major at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colo.
While the GOP crowd's attention strayed to the football game about halfway through the debate, the 80 or so Democrats at a Planned Parenthood shindig at the nearby Beauty Bar were glued to the contest in Florida _ perhaps because they could win drinks and T-shirts for following along.
Many Denver Democrats were dismayed by the president's sleepy performance at the recent Denver debate. But there were grins of relief all around Monday night.
"This one I think he definitely did better," said Marc Wren, a 43-year-old web developer. "He was just more outspoken this time, got some good jabs in there."
But the challenger won over at least one Colorado Democrat Monday.
Watching from home, former deputy mayor Fidel "Butch" Montoya had been looking for a reason to stick with Obama. But Monday's debate pushed him into the Romney camp.
"I thought Romney was more realistic about the future," said Montoya, 61, who held the city/county office from 1995 to 2000. "I thought the president spoke about the issues, but I thought Romney was clear _ these are issues we have to confront, we can't ignore them."