Dr. LaMont Penry sat at La Bistro Bonne in Northwest with a group of debate watchers Monday night, shaking his head from time-to-time and grimaced as he watched the sparring match in the third and final presidential debate.
At the end of the debate, which took place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., and two weeks before the Nov. 6 general election, Penry's disappointment was palpable.
"I don't think that [Mitt] Romney came very prepared. Most of his jargon is repetitive and he was totally on the defensive," said Penry, a self-described 'Army brat' from North Carolina. "He goes back to when he was governor only to be made a complete fool of by something he said he did 10 years ago."
Penry was referring to Romney's assertion that 4th and 8th grade students ranked No. 1 in English and math while he was governor.
"But that was 10 years before you took office," Obama said twice, leaving Romney struggling to continue.
Penry said he is flabbergasted listening to Romney repeatedly and boldly deny statements and positions he once embraced.
"He denied on national TV that he didn't say troops should leave Afghanistan – blatant dishonesty. Typical Bush, typical Republican," he said. "He comes up with analogies that have no bearing. The concern I have is that people out there aren't informed."
At the end of the day, Penry said, he believes the third debate will make a critical difference.
"This debate has made a heck of a difference in terms of who's more believable," he explained. "This is about trust."
Pedra Chaffers, a teacher who recently relocated to the District, disagreed about the debate's importance.
"I don't know if the debate will make a difference," said the 46-year-old Anacostia resident. "For some people, it will clarify some things. That doesn't hurt."
Chaffers, however, said she questions Romney's motive for his desire to become president.
"I think Romney really wants to be president but hasn't really said how," she said.
Chaffers and Penry were among a small crowd of debate watchers at the bistro at an event sponsored by the Caribbean Professional Network on Oct. 22.
Obama and Romney discussed troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, the unrest and sectarian problems in Pakistan; Iran's attempts to become a nuclear nation; the ousting of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi; support for Israel and the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.
Even as Romney eschewed many of the positions he offered when seeking the GOP presidential nomination, Obama hammered him and cast a bright light on his many inconsistencies. The president castigated Romney, saying he was all over the map on a number of issues. The signature zinger of the night came as Obama ridiculed Romney's criticism of his defense strategy.
"The budget that we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it. But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works," Obama said. "You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."
"And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities."
Romney supporters lauded his performance and campaign aides exulted that the debate has not slowed the momentum he grabbed when he surprised Obama and beat him handily in the first debate.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Romney as saying that he could withstand two more weeks of attacks from Barack Obama but the country could not handle another four years of the president. Running mate Paul Ryan declared that Obama has run out of ideas, which is why he is running a small campaign about small things and hoping that he can distract people from the reality ...
Reaction to the last of three debates is decidedly mixed. While all the snap polls taken immediately after the debate gave Obama a clear win, it will be several days before it is known if that translates to a bump in the polls. At the moment, both men are running neck-and-neck with Obama maintaining an edge in Ohio and Wisconsin, while being slightly behind or within the margin of error in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
Romney was described as tentative, incoherent, unsure. Rather than present distinctive differences in his foreign policy portfolio, a range of critics, including the New York Times, criticized him for bringing little of consequence to the debate.
"Mitt Romney has nothing really coherent or substantive to say about domestic policy, but at least he can sound energetic and confident about it," according to an editorial published in the Times on Tuesday, Oct. 23. "On foreign policy, the subject of Monday night's final presidential debate, he had little coherent to say and often sounded completely lost. That's because he has no original ideas of substance on most world issues, including Syria, Iran and Afghanistan."
Penry and Alton Drew, an Atlanta-based legal and policy analyst, both said that they wished that Romney had better outlined his vision of foreign policy in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Drew, a Libertarian said he's deeply disappointed with both parties and both candidates, saying he would vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. He did say that if pushed, he would vote for Obama while holding his nose.
Drew said he's not surprised the combatants weren't able to drill deeply into some of foreign policy's juicier, more complex issues. And even to do so, would cause viewers to nod off, he said.
"It depends on how closely you follow policy. It's very difficult to get substantive in an hour- and-a-half. You can only get to so many details," said the 49-year-old father of one.
"You can only get to the tip of the iceberg. If you want to bore people to sleep, talk about foreign policy."
"It was part performance. Romney knew that there was too far to go with Benghazi – it's too complicated. Distinguishing a position doesn't mean you bring anything new."
To someone who makes their decision based on feelings they probably leaned to Obama, Drew said.
"If you were into the boxing match of it, it was a good debate. But there was no substance which was surprising," he said. "Romney allowed Obama to pull him to the middle. I asked on Facebook did Ann Romney know who she was hugging last night? Romney flip-flops. He's betting that people who are seeing him for the first time don't know what he said last week."
"Critics and pundits keep saying people are getting to know him. If you're serious about voting for someone, you avoid pundits. People are swayed by the NBCs and the Foxs. If people want to know where Romney stands, they can go to his website or Google it, but we don't invest that much time. He's making the bet that people in the middle don't know him."