While tens of millions of Americans gathered around their living room televisions to watch the first debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, a group of about 50 people took a chair in the Town of Hempstead Democratic Committee headquarters in Valley Stream.
During the day, the small storefront on Brooklyn Avenue serves as the second largest call center for Obama in New York state and the largest on Long Island. But on the night of Oct. 3, Obama supporters put down their phones and took a seat to watch the candidates square off on the economy, health care and the role of government.
Not surprising, several statements by Obama drew applause from the crowd, while some of Romney’s remarks drew jeers.
Steve Thom, president of the Valley Stream Democratic Club, has seen the candidates’ commercials, but was looking forward to the back and forth between Obama and Romney on the issues. “It’s a good opportunity to see each person stand toe to toe and defend their ideologies,” he said of the debate.
Thom said the Obama call center opened in Valley Stream on July 1 and has not only been a place to support the president’s re-election, but a spot where people can gather and talk politics. It also hosted a convention party.
Matt Hynes, a member of the town’s Democratic Committee, said the call center is one of thousands across the country, part of the Obama For America grassroots campaign effort. He said that OFA’s New York chapter has teamed up with other chapters in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
While Obama is favored to win New York, that is not necessarily the case in Ohio and Pennsylvania, both considered swing states in this election. At the Valley Stream call center, presidential supporters have been calling voters in those states. Hynes said more than 35,000 calls have been made so far.
Hynes said that after a voter identification law in Pennsylvania was struck down in court, callers in Valley Stream are letting people there know about the ruling, to ensure that everyone knows their voting rights.
Last week, supporters made calls in the hours leading up to the debate, before stopping to enjoy some food and conversation before the prime time event began.
Most at the call center felt Obama did well, quite opposite from the national consensus that Romney did better. Jeannine Narcisse said the president was relaxed and competent, while Romney appeared nervous. She also said she felt Romney lacked details on how he would enact his changes.
Arlene Lynn, of Valley Stream, who has made several calls in support the president, said she was pleased with his performance. “I thought Obama was focused and addressed the issues,” she said.
Lynn said she wanted to watch the debate to hear the candidates’ views on the economy and health care. “Of course, Romney left out the details,” she said.
However, Jay Carter reluctantly gave the better performance to Romney. He said the Republican candidate controlled the conversation and spoke with more conviction that the president.
Carter added that he was disappointed Obama didn’t go after Romney more for some of his past remarks. “He didn’t get him like he should have,” Carter said.
Thom said that while the presidential campaign has been a major focus at the call center, the team there is also working hard to support the local Democratic candidates for state Assembly, state Senate and Congress.