BOCA RATON, Fla. — Anti-coal demonstrators banging on drums, women dressed in binders, Democrats for Mitt Romney and a really angry polar bear puppet were among the dozens competing for political attention on the outer perimeter of Lynn University Bachelor's, master's & online degrees before Monday's presidential debate.
The demonstrators and supporters of all political persuasions and causes spent much of Monday standing at different corners surrounding the Boca Raton-based university with no guarantee that President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney would see them.
They braved the sun and sporadic rainshowers typical of a Florida afternoon, shouting at each other and waving signs and flags at cars that passed by honking.
The causes were varied and crossed political boundaries, from supporters of Falun Gong practitioners in China to Florida students angry with both political parties over environmental issues.
"Our message is that President Obama and Mitt Romney have yet to address the climate change in the national debates and we hope they change that tonight," said Whit Jones, who led a student group called the Energy Action Coalition.
Organizers of the debate had set up a special "Free Speech Zone" near the entrance of the university, but demonstrators and supporters were spread out throughout Boca Raton.
Early in the afternoon, Obama supporters Marijo Beckman and Eve Daily of Delray Beach joined others at the corner of Yamato Road and Broken Sound Boulevard after learning the president's motorcade would whiz by. Some stood there for more than an hour before the long cortege flew by about 2 p.m.
Beckman, 65, carried a sign that read "Fire the Republicans." She jumped and hollered as the president's entourage passed.
"I think he waved at me," Beckman said. "It was worth it."
In the designated Free Speech Zone, Coral Springs resident Elizabeth Kam held up a "Democrat for Romney" sign, drawing cheers from other supporters of the Republican candidate.
"This is an important election and you can't vote along party lines," Kam said. "We need a businessman in the White House to get us out of this financial downward spiral. I have to think about our country first and not think about my political party."
Nick Tucker, 12, saw a money making opportunity at the protest zone. The Boca Raton middle schooler and his mom set up a lemonade stand where he sold red "Romneyaid" and blue "Obamaid" in what he called an informal presidential poll.
"Actually, most people are buying water," he said.
Most of the action on Monday took place at the heavily-traveled intersection of Yamato Road and Military Trail where all four corners were filled by 6 p.m. Protesters of all sorts stood behind barricades shouting slogans, beating on drums, cheering and booing just inches from one another.
Wearing an oxygen tank, Mark Boston, a Port St. Lucie man who said he had suffered four heart attacks in the past four years, did his protesting in hushed terms. He handed out fliers to Romney supporters listing what he called the benefits of Obama's health care law.
"I am hoping we can all take health out of politics," Boston said. "We're talking about lives."
The intersection was carefully watched by law enforcement officials including people from the U.S. Secret Service, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and the Boca Raton Police Department. No incidents were reported.
Romney supporters calling for the president's ouster outnumbered those who were waving signs for Obama.
"He has had four years to fix our country. If I did a horrible job for four years, I'd be fired also," said Ron Booker, 47, of Boynton Beach.
Obama supporters Karen Hatch and her fiance Todd Beachum stood firm even after Romney supporters surrounded them and tried to outshout them.
"America will have the last word on election night," Hatch said.
By nightfall, both candidates' motorcades had passed on the way to the debate site. By then, many of the demonstrators had left, hurrying to catch the debates on television.
One of the protests that got the warmest reception came from an irate polar bear puppet, which drew laughs even from sheriff's deputies. Puppeteer Curtis Hannum, of California, said his bear Pete was trying to stop global warming.
"Florida will be 20 feet under water if we don't stop global warming," Hannum said, speaking through the bear. "I came floating down in a chunk of ice to do everything I can to stop global warming."