Specters of previous administrations haunted some attendees as surely as the cardboard spiders and witches taped to the walls heralded Halloween.
“I don’t want to go back to Bush-era policies,” Dale Posey, 64, of Austell, a retired federal employee, said about George W. Bush’s administration. “I don’t want to go back to the bad ol’ days.”
His thoughts were echoed by Pat Harris, 59, of Smyrna, a clerical worker.
“A Romney presidency sort of frightens me, because I’ve watched his stance,” she said. “He’s not a concise, confident person who would handle things in a diplomatic way. He’s very hawkish. I’m afraid if he’s elected, we’ll go to war again.”
Hopes were pinned on the debate, in a campaign seeing fresh energy beginning with the Joe Biden-Paul Ryan faceoff, said Tamu Douglas, 34, of Smyrna.
“The mood has changed,” she said about previous debate parties she attended. “The general mood is more of an upswing.”
Point after point, question after question and reply after reply, Obama earned cheers and cries of “that’s right” from onlookers while Romney got booed.
Jeremy B. Jones of Mableton, 46, an auto sales and leasing professional, said he didn’t know of any undecided voters.
“Most people I know are voting for Obama,” he said. “I have some friends who are voting for Romney, and I’m working on them.”
Jones’ interest in converting voters may stem from his resolute faith in his candidate.
“He’s a family man. He’s for the blue-collar worker, for people who are concerned and trying to get ahead,” Jones said. “He’s not into the 2 or 5 percent that have all the money in the world, like Romney.”
Obama’s fate is secure, Jones said.
“He’s our next president,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republicans at the El Nopal Mexican restaurant in Acworth said Romney articulated his vision for the future, while Obama spoke in generalizations.
“He’s consistently presented a clear path to the future,” said Michael Williams of Marietta, who works in quality control. “I really don’t understand what our president would do with a second term, and he’s had three debates to explain that to me.”
Williams said the tone of the debate was lopsided.
“We had one candidate who conducted himself very presidentially ... and he was in a debate with someone who continually interrupted him, continually attacked him,” he said.
The crowd was disappointed that Libya was not brought up in the course of questioning.
“A lot of us were really hoping that would get brought out in the public square and the president would have to answer for his actions,” he said.
While the debate was centered on foreign policy, undecided voters would not make that their deciding issue, Williams said.
“In an election like this, the economy is going to take a front-row seat,” he said. “It’s possible the governor’s policy was to hold the line on foreign policy and appear much stronger on the economic realm.”
John Chandler, 18, of Kennesaw, said while the debate went more smoothly than the previous two times the candidate went head-to-head, there was not a clear victor.
“Romney said his points very well — so did Obama, actually,” the Georgia Highlands College student said. “(Undecided voters are) probably going to think it’s a draw.”
Chandler, who is a member of the Georgia Highlands College Republicans, said no clear talking point emerged from Monday night’s debate, in contrast to the first debate’s Big Bird references and the second’s “binders of women.”
“People from both sides .. .will both find ways to bash the other side,” he said. “They were both in agreement tonight, and both had very good points.”
Chandler, who is studying business, said Romney’s policies would create a better future for him when he graduates.
“One thing we need to do in the Middle East is not go in with warfare, because that will just tick them off more, but get them to reject extremism,” he said. “Doing that right now will definitely help out things when I graduate.”
Elaine Smyda of Acworth said Romney won the debate “for sure.”
“He was able to stay more specific and on-task than Obama,” the health care worker said. “Obama was very scattered in his answers.”
Smyda, who is a member of the Cobb County Republicans and worked for Rick Santorum’s Georgia campaign, said Romney’s debating skills have improved over the course of his campaign.
“Mitt’s doing better than he was 6 months ago,” she said. “He’s really improved, and his debating skills have become more keen and on-point.”
The highlight of the debate, Smyda said, came at the very end.
“Romney’s closing remarks were very to point, and I thought they were amazing,” she said. “Obama’s were kind of ridiculous.”