Local voters who tuned in, on the 47th anniversary of the first televised presidential debate, said that while the candidates did a good job highlighting their differences, there was no real winner.
"It was the first debate I had a chance to see, so I was very interested to get a general sense of the different candidates," said Ola Lessard, 38, of Londonderry. "I felt like I was able to feel where each of them stood."
Lessard said that going into the debate, she was interested in Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. But her choices changed.
"Coming out of the debate, I think it's more of a split between Hillary and Barack, but I really liked Joe Biden," she said. "He stood out as being strong and very decisive. I liked what he had to say."
Chris Rossetti, 41, of Windham said he had his favorites going into the debate and wasn't swayed by last night's showing.
"I think all the candidates did a real good job distinguishing themselves," he said.
The war in Iraq and conflict with Iran dominated the first half of the two-hour debate, with Clinton, Obama and Edwards saying the drawdown of troops will depend on the circumstances.
Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut pledged to have all troops out of Iraq by 2013 - the end of their first term.
Former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska urged the senators on stage to stay in Congress and vote against the war every single day for 40 days in a row.
Rossetti, who said the war is his top concern, thought the debate did a good job of showcasing the candidates' positions on the war. He thinks Congress should be doing more to challenge the president and while he said Gravel is "a little out there, I kind of, in a way, agree with him. I do think there is more they could do to put an end to this war and bring the troops home."
Although a large crowd flocked to the college's campus last night, and the local voters who tuned in said they were glad they did, other Southern New Hampshire residents said they had no plans to watch the debate.
Some said the broadcast from 9 to 11 p.m. was too late for a weeknight, while others said that with more than three months until the New Hampshire primary, it is still too early in the political season.
Health care and Social Security were discussed at length, but the local voters said they would have liked to hear more about alternative energy, the environment and public education.
"I didn't hear a lot about energy or job creation," Rossetti said.
For those who tuned in, the benefit was being able to see the candidates interact and watch them answer questions.
"It gave me a chance to see and get advice from some of the people that I just wasn't as familiar with," Lessard said. "Seeing how they react, if they're able to field a question well, knowing they are willing to take a stand on issues, that's very important."
Rossetti agreed, saying the debate was a good way to give the lesser-known candidates a platform.
At the end of the debate, which was broadcast live on MSNBC and NECN, moderator Tim Russert hosted a "lightning round," giving each candidate 30 seconds to answer a question. The topics varied from the campaign donations Clinton received to the candidates' favorite Bible verse.
While some, Lessard and Rossetti, said getting the candidates to keep their answers short was a useful exercise, Rossetti also thought some of the questions should have been skipped, including a proposal to lower the drinking age and a nationwide smoking ban. The debate ended on a light note, with Russert asking the candidates which baseball team they favored, the Red Sox or Yankees.
The question gave the candidates a chance to joke around, with Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio voting for the Cleveland Indians and using the chance to say "Hi Mom!" Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware said that in his grandfather's house "If you weren't a Yankees fan, you didn't eat."
Richardson, Gravel, Edwards and Dodd all backed the Red Sox, receiving applause from the crowd.
The local reaction to the lighter questions was mixed. Lessard said it was a good way to end the night.
"These are people, it's kind of nice to be able to see them smile," she said.
But Rossetti thought the time could have been spent on a more serious issue.
"Men and women are getting killed in Iraq," he said. "I didn't see the value of some questions at the end, like the drinking age. There are so many issues that are more important."
Once the debate ended, campaigns and commentators began discussing and dissecting the event, trying to decide which candidate won. But for local voters, it was a chance to get more information, not a time to make a final decision on which candidate to back.
"I've had this marked on my calendar for a month and a half," Lessard said. "It's one small piece of informing myself and I was very glad I watched it."