It was a bit like speed dating meets the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night at the Field House sports bar in Center City.

Five of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor took part in what was billed as a petition-pitch party, but was as much a test of how well they could connect with a bar filled with young, semi-inebriated voters.

And, theoretically, there was a measure of success - how many people a candidate could persuade to sign his or her nominating petition.

Early returns suggested former City Councilman James F. Kenney was doing the best. His count of 17 at 8 p.m. was running two ahead of Doug Oliver and more than triple State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams' five. Nelson Diaz had three and Lynne M. Abraham two.

Truth be told, everyone seemed to be losing out to beer and small talk.

The event was sponsored by the Pattison Leader Group, an organization aimed at increasing civic engagement among young people. For a $4 entry fee, anyone interested got snacks, a poker chip, and the opportunity to hear each candidate make a seven-minute pitch.

Once the speechifying was done, those so moved could use their poker chip to declare their support for a particular candidate and sign his or her nominating petition. The poker chips served as unofficial vote counts. As it turned out, they proved an inadequate measure, as people signed petitions without turning in their chips.

Given that the crowd was billed as a pool of Millennials, there was some mild pandering to youth.

Diaz, for instance, promised he would keep the city "open 24 hours so Millennials can party any time they want." There were a fair many cheers to that.

As if to establish his own bona fides, Williams managed to dramatically drop his mike, rapper-style, at the end of his pitch.

Kenney seemed to have the winning message - that he was going to keep things short, since people came to enjoy themselves. He used only half his allotted time.

Andrew Marson, 28, of Point Breeze, was one of those who signed Kenney's petition. He said he had been impressed with Kenney's long career on City Council.

Sarah Lovegren, 22, of West Philadelphia, had never heard any of the candidates speak before. She said she was inclined to support Oliver or Williams.

"I thought they were the better speakers," she said.

Lovegren liked the fact that all the candidates were concerned about the crisis in the city schools.

"I'm not going anywhere now," she said, "but I'm glad they're talking about education now, because when I'm 30, I don't know - if nothing changes, I might be."


Inquirer staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this article.