Arthur Howland is a 34-year-old analyst for the Navy and a lifelong resident of Arlington. Howland voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and he’s pretty sure he’ll vote for Obama again. He calls himself an independent and an Eisenhower Republican—he’s for a fiscally responsible government that isn’t afraid to spend money when it needs to, he says. He didn’t watch the first presidential debate, but he heard Obama was pretty lousy.
“He wasn’t aggressive enough, is what I heard,” Howland tells me as we wait for our beers at Bailey’s Pub, where the Arlington Young Democrats are watching the town hall debate. “That’s one of the things I want to see from Obama tonight.”
Howland says what he really wants to see, though, is Obama make the case for a second term. "I want him to convince me to vote for him again," he says.
We sip our beers and chat intermittently during the debate. Howland may like Obama, but he doesn’t let the president off easy when he thinks he’s wrong. When Obama mentions that domestic oil and natural gas production has increased during his presidency, Howland shakes his head.
“That was put in place by Bush, though,” he says.
When Mitt Romney points out that the Obama administration blocked the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the United States, Howland says he agrees with the Republican. “[Obama] should have let that pipeline go through," he says.
But Howland is frustrated with Romney’s lack of specifics on the economy. “All he says is, ‘I know how to create jobs,’” Howland says. “But he doesn’t have any details.”
Howland is less pleased than most of the attendees here with the debate moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN. He says Crowley helped Obama more than she did Romney, and that often she didn’t give Romney a chance to respond.
“I didn’t think the moderating was up to the level that it should be for the three presidential debates,” he says.
I ask Howland at the end of the debate if he heard from Obama a good reason why he should get another four years in the White House. Did Obama convince him? Howland hesitates to answer and changes the subject.
“My primary reason why I watch the debates is to see if Romney gets specific,” he says.