Students Gather to Hear Final Presidential Debate

As students prepare to fill out their mail-in ballots and campus groups make their final campaign pushes, Harvard students turned their attention to the last presidential debate on Monday evening.

At an event hosted by the Institute of Politics, over 700 students gathered to witness President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney go head to head on issues of American foreign policy.

“It’s very significant in the United States in particular given our role on the global front,” said Ved V. Topkar ’16, who watched the debate with the Harvard Political Review at the IOP.

“Foreign policy is one of the issues that can have a lot of discrepancies between parties,” he added.

Even several international students who will not be voting in November attended the event to learn more about the candidates’ positions.

“I’d like to see what the U.S. is going to do with the wars it has not been involved with and whether either of the candidates is going to take action,” Minh D. Trinh ’15 said.

HKS student Julia L. Fetherston said, “For international students, this is a great chance to get a taste of American politics.”

Beginning with the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya and the ongoing violence in Syria, the debate was focused on the Middle East—namely the extent of American military involvement in the region.

“I think the Middle East is definitely important and needs to be discussed in one of the debates,” Julia N. Becerra ’16 said.

At a point in the race when polls show the candidates neck and neck, the J.F.K. Forum sounded like the set of a sitcom as students cheered, laughed and jeered at the candidates.

“It’s great to be here and listen to the sounds of the crowd,” Topkar said.

Moderator Bob Schieffer, host of CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” elicited heated exchanges between Obama and Romney and pushed the two men to articulate their ideas on America’s role in the world.

“Obviously foreign policy is a huge issue, and it’s interesting to see what the candidates’ views are,” Rohan K. Reddy ’16 said.“Both are making extremely valid points, but I think Romney is fluffing his points a bit more than Obama is.”

Kyle E. Dempsey, a Harvard Medical School student who identified as an independent voter, said that Obama performed much better than he did during the first debate.

“I would give the edge slightly to Obama, but I don’t think either candidate had a knockout performance,” Dempsey said. “Romney could have been a bit more pointed and specific. It seemed like he gave a lot of rhetoric.”

The debate strayed to domestic economic issues as the questions turned to China and the candidates discussed government stimulus and bailouts.

“Foreign policy matters, but I think the economy will be what sways people because it is what most affects everyday life,” Becerra said.

With the election only two weeks away, latest polls show the candidates neck to neck—with nominees taking leads by razor-thin margins in different swing states.