TULSA, Okla. - Republicans gathered at party headquarters Wednesday evening to see Mitt Romney take on President Barack Obama in the first of three presidential debates scheduled for the 2012 election cycle.
By 7:00 p.m., volunteers at the GOP offices had hooked up a television while others continued to work the phones trying to turn out votes for local congressional candidates.
Others worked to assemble Romney-Ryan yard signs to be distributed throughout the area in the run up to the Nov. 6 elections.
The small room began to fill up quickly by 7:30 as more party members arrived and began talking about what they expected, or hoped to see from the candidate they hope will be sworn in as the nation's new president next January.
Matt Pinnell, Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, told KRMG he felt the debate is critical to Romney's campaign.
"This is probably the best opportunity for both Romney and Obama, the most eyeballs on a TV screen between now and November is going to be these debates, and this first one is so highly anticipated this may be the most viewed debate, so based upon the eyeballs on the television screens alone this is a very, very important opportunity and more important for Romney than Obama, because he's down a couple of points in some of these swing states," he said moments before the debate began. "I think it's clear that this race is a statistical dead heat nationally, but in some of those swing states it's very important for Romney to do well tonight."
He added, "I think people are going to learn more about Romney...four years ago when Barack Obama was debating, he didn't have a record. He now has four years of a record and it's a very poor record in our opinion. I think that will be on full display as well tonight. It's very important that Romney takes advantage of this time to show those contrasts, to say 'hey, he's a nice guy but he didn't get the job done. Because he didn't get the job done, he does not deserve a different term and here's what I would do different and lay out his plan.
As the debate began the group quieted briefly, but it didn't take long for them to get into the spirit of the evening, applauding when Romney made a point and hooting or laughing derisively at many of the president's remarks.
When it was over, the crowd applauded enthusiastically for Romney's closing remarks and the room buzzed as they began discussing what they had seen and heard.
Every person KRMG spoke with said Romney had exceeded their expectations, though no one had seemed too concerned before the debate began.
Donna Mills was among those quite happy with Romney's performance.
"That's why I wanted to see the debate, to see if he would come out strong, and he did. I was very happy about that and I believe he can and will win the election."
Her husband Jim concurred.
"I've had high expectations for Mitt Romney all along, but he actually exceeded my high expectations this evening. There ought not to be any confusion in anybody's mind about what they stand for now."
Nearby stood Jane Horton, a military widow and Republican activist.
She told KRMG that she saw a new side of Romney during the debate.
"Romney way over-exceeded my expectations. His reputation is kind of that he's shy and timid and he's just a nice guy, but tonight he came out biting."
Speaking with Horton was House District 71 candidate Katie Henke and she was enthusiastic as well.
"It was a home run for Romney. I think that the President was all over the place, he was stumbling, he had a hard time recalling facts about his own presidency."
For those undecided, she hoped the debate may have nudged them over toward the Republican side of the ledger.
"I think that that just proved that Romney's very sharp, he has a clear plan and he's ready to execute."