On the base, voting assistance officer Larry Ward encourages Marines to vote and provides information on deadlines and where to send ballots.
But the military is skittish about having active duty personnel speaking out in favor of candidates at campaign events, especially if they are in uniform or could have their opinions construed as official Corps endorsements. Marines are acutely aware of the case of Gary Stein, a Marine sergeant at Camp Pendleton who was discharged earlier this year after posting comments on his Facebook page considered disparaging toward the president.
Stein challenged the move in federal court, claiming he was being unfairly punished for exercising his right to free speech. His commanding officer, Col. Christopher Dowling, countered that by publicly criticizing the commander in chief, Stein had caused dissension in the ranks that set "a terrible example for junior Marines and has the very real potential to undermine the chain of command."
Richard Guerro, 30, a Marine instructor at the electronics schoolhouse on base, cited the case last week as he emerged from a dry cleaner where he had just dropped off his uniform.
He was careful in his comments, but said his personal views lead him to favor Romney at this point, mostly because of his plans for increasing military spending.
Guerro joined the Marine Corps six months after 9/11. He said he worries that the military is asking some Marines to take buyouts after 15 years, rather than the 20 years he hopes to serve.
He added that he has heard persuasive arguments from both candidates and has not made a final decision.
"I haven't really looked into the specifics, but I plan to before the election rolls around," he said.
Town near base is split
Outside the base gates, the town's citizens are split. In the courtyard of the 29 Palms Creative Center & Gallery, where military families come for art lessons, 79-year-old Art VanHofwegen let loose with an indictment of the president that could have come straight from talk radio.
"Obama hasn't done a lick of a good thing for me as far as I know in all these four years," said VanHofwegen, who was dropping off his metal sculptures. "If we keep him for another four years, this nation as we know it will be like those European nations."
VanHofwegen said he believes Obama will cut military spending, and that "if we don't stay strong we're going to get taken over by Russia or China."
Inside, where some of the artwork included coffee mugs adorned with peace signs, owner Gretchen Grunt voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to do so again.
"I'm going to vote Democratic because they're going to support the arts more," Grunt said. "I feel like it's kind of the lesser of the evils."
Grunt added that she is disappointed in "the whole government" now, a sentiment echoed by several residents who said they lack enthusiasm for either candidate.
At Luckie Park, a recreational complex near a housing development for military families, Jennifer Glover, 31, pushed her 2-year-old son, Ethan, in a jogging stroller. Glover lives on the base with her husband, a 12-year Marine veteran. She said they had watched the debates and that she already had voted by absentee ballot in her home county in North Carolina.
"I think a lot of people at this point feel like if they vote they're going to be voting for the lesser of two evils," Glover said. "I've heard from a lot of our friends that don't really feel one candidate is going to be better than the other."
The barrage of commercials and personal attacks has taken a toll, she said.
"I would rather just see some politicians come out and give the facts, because why should you have to have fact-checkers after every debate? Go out, say the truth."
Glover did not want to reveal how she voted, saying, "You never know who you're going to offend." But she said her decision came down to military issues espoused by one of the candidates.
"I think getting out of all the conflicts that we don't necessarily need to be in," she said. "We're not the world police."
"I understand that other countries need help, but that's not necessarily our job. And I think we've lost enough of our people trying to help those who don't want our help, obviously."