HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. >> Most voters watching the debate from home didn’t get to see what happened before and after President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney went on stage Tuesday. Even then, some exchanges were lost on television.
Here’s what those viewers missed:
Before the debate, aides said, Romney and his wife Ann sat together on couch backstage. His five sons and their spouses joined him, but unlike the first debate, Romney did not bring his grandchildren with him. In the hall, Mrs. Romney sat two of her sons; the families were given just three prime tickets in the hall and the rest of her brood watched off-camera.
First lady Michelle Obama sat in the hall with U.S. Army veteran Seth Bodnar and his wife, Chelsea. Initially, Mrs. Obama planned to sit with Bodnar and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But when Cuomo heard Mrs. Bodnar was going to be there, too, he gave her his seat with the first lady.
Both Mrs. Romney and Mrs. Obama wore similar shades of pink.
The 82 undecided voters picked by the debate commission as potential questioners were seated in a tight semi-circle around the red-carpeted area where the candidates sat. Two tall, blue-padded chairs were placed on the debate stage for Obama and Romney.
The debate hall had two other tiers of seating where other audience members sat. A third of those tickets went to the Obama campaign, one-third went to Romney, and the final third went to organizers. The lights were dimmed over those seating sections and those audience members were not seen in millions of voters’ living rooms.
Despite instructions from debate organizers to stay quiet, the audience in the hall was far more responsive than during the first face-off.
As Romney answered a question on gas prices and oil drilling, Obama, who was sitting behind him, stood up and moved toward his challenger. Romney, who had been facing the audience, turned in the president’s direction.
The two men moved toward each other, often talking at the same time, until they were just a few feet apart.
The audience gasped audibly when Romney told an interrupting Obama, “You’ll get your chance in a minute.”
And they laughed when the president, told that the next question was coming to him, said he was “looking forward to it.”
Applause in the hall also followed both statements from debate moderator Candy Crowley on Libya — about what Obama said in the Rose Garden and how it took 14 days to paint a fuller picture.
Several hundred people promoting a variety of causes — marijuana, foreign aid, HIV and AIDS — gathered outside the security zone. The boisterous crowd was joined by a large contingent of Nassau County police officers.
Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested when they tried to get into the debate hall.
A Nassau County police spokesman said a third person was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge. The spokesman did not have details, but said it was someone among the protesters outside the gates of the campus.
Three topics were trending on Twitter in the United States at different times in the 30 minutes leading up to the debate:
— (hashtag) ObamaDebateTips: Folks obviously comparing Obama with his lackluster performance last time around.
— Various versions of “Mitt Romney’s $5”: A reference to Romney’s tax plan and Democrats’ questions about how the plan could cut taxes by $5 trillion without exploding the deficit or requiring tax hikes on the middle class.
— (hashtag) GaryJohnsonHasMyVote: A coordinated Twitter action by the Libertarian candidate’s supporters that appeared to be gaining traction in the US.
AFTER THE EVENT
After Obama and Romney shook hands, the president lingered near the voters and appeared to single out those who asked questions.
Romney, meanwhile, headed straight toward Mrs. Romney and his family, who joined him on stage.
Both families stayed in the hall, taking pictures with the undecided voters and answering questions. Neither, however, rushed to speak to his rival or to greet his rival’s family.
All five of Romney’s sons were on hand for their father’s second head-to-head meeting with Obama, even though only two had tickets into the main seating area. First daughters Sasha and Malia Obama were not seen.
Associated Press writers Frank Eltman in Hempstead, Philip Elliott in Washington and Oskar Garcia in Honolulu contributed to this report.