MODESTO -- About 80 people turned out at the State Theatre in downtown Modesto on Tuesday evening for the live broadcast of the second presidential debate.
Some came for practical reasons: They don't have cable or even a working television. Others wanted to be part of the excitement.
"I thought, 'I am going to have to curb my outbursts,' but my husband said, 'That's what this is for,' " said attendee Sue Hay.
"It's not as if we are on stage," Steve Hay added.
But the crowd was civil, at most letting out audible sighs or low grumbles and at times applauding. Attendees would sit forward in their seats during intense moments and then, when they disagreed with something, quickly shift positions.
The Hays, registered Democrats from Modesto, were among the majority in attendance, based on a small survey before the broadcast and the line at the party's booth.
But there was a strong showing of Mitt Romney supporters, such as John Freeman.
"I believe it is the biggest election in my lifetime," said the 29-year-old. "It's really cool to be out and be with everyone in the same room. We can all disagree with each other and exchange opinions; that's what makes our country so strong."
Freeman attended the broadcast with his independent friend, Brett Croslow, who also has decided on Romney, and Croslow's father-in-law, John McGrath, a registered Democrat.
"I'm hoping to educate my son-in-law," McGarth said with a smirk. He was happy to be watching the debate in a venue without his grandchildren "jumping all over me."
State Theatre board member Randy Siefkin said opening the theater for the mass viewing was a "sort of great experiment."
He said the board chose the town hall forum debate because, in the past, it's had the most viewership.
He handed out questionnaires to all in attendance, which asked how they thought the candidates did and whether the debate had any bearing on how they will vote.
It appeared, though, that most people had made up their minds before the debate and were there largely for the experience.
Modestan Alice Berry said she is undecided, but the debate would not help make her decision. It simply would help her be better informed, she said.
The 90-minute debate concluded with an analysis from retired California State University, Stanislaus, Professor Larry Giventer, Modesto City Schools board President and Democratic delegate Ruben Villalobos and Republican delegate Joan Clendenin.
Giventer told the crowd that when it reflects on the debate in a few days, it will remember not the facts, but the candidates' demeanor.
"Tonight was not a debate; it was an audition
for a lead role in a daily, live, reality show, soap opera, sitcom called the American presidency," he said. "We are not sensitive to the dialogue so much as we are to the optics and then, just like 'American Idol' and 'Dancing with the Stars,' we vote."
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2366.