The Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University seats only a few hundred people. Unlike the second debate, a town-hall format in which Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama stood and often circled each other like boxers in a ring, this debate had the candidates seated at a desk with moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS asking the questions.
“You have to be quiet,” Mr. Schieffer admonished the audience minutes before the debate started. “We want a debate that’s worthy of the greatest country in the world.”
The audience followed his instructions so well that Mr. Schieffer turned around to face them and said, “It’s going to be about five minutes yet. So you can talk quietly.” The tension in the hall was burst with laughter.
Inside the relatively small arena, the audience members included about 100 Lynn students who won tickets in a lottery. And although the debate was aimed at undecided voters, at least one of the students can’t vote for either candidate. Graduate student Bernard Hollnbuchna is from Austria, but said he was thrilled nevertheless to be a part of the moment. More than 750 of the school’s 2,100 students applied for tickets.
Another non-traditional student who got to attend the debate was Jack Slotnick, an 86-year-old war veteran and Purple Heart recipient. University President Kevin Ross gave up his ticket so that Mr. Slotnick could witness the debate in person.
Among the partisans in the crowd was Scott Van Duzer, an Obama supporter who made news last month by lifting the president off the ground in a bear hug when Mr. Obama visited Mr. Van Duzer’s pizza shop in Fort Pierce, Fla.
Also seated with first lady Michelle Obama were former Florida Sen. Bob Graham; former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler; former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican who supports the president’s re-election bid; and Lesley Walters, a resident of Boca Raton and a veteran of the U.S. Army.
By rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the humidity inside the hall must not be greater than 50 percent (a challenge in warm and muggy Florida). The candidates’ dressing rooms had to be 750 square feet each.
Lynn University spent about $5 million in upgrades to prepare for the debate, including new entrances to campus and an upgraded computer network.
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Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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