It was finally the big night for Democrats with the their first presidential debate on CNN. Team Starting Line attended three different debate watch parties in the metro to see first-hand how Iowa Democrats felt about the candidates’ performances. We hit up the Urbandale Democrats’ party, a student get-together at Drake University and a Martin O’Malley-sponsored one in the East Village.
In the back room of a Mexican restaurant in Urbandale, local Democrats, party leaders and most of the IDP staff gathered to watch the first debate. A solid crowd of 60 people showed up, many watching from the doorway or bar in back. IDP chair Andy McGuire, along with newly-elected IDP vice chair Danny Homan and local State Representative John Forbes were all on hand to rally the Democrats beforehand. Some national reporters with the New York Times and LA Times were there as well. Technical difficulties frustrated some (including this writer, who drove home for part of it), with the video feed failing multiple times. Hopefully the Iowa Caucus runs a wee bit smoother than Tuesday night.
The loyalties of the crowd were certainly mixed, and they kept to a largely positive vibe. Sanders criticism of Citizens United early on in the debate brought cheers from most of the room, and nearly all the candidates brought positive responses. Afterward all attendees noted the contrast in seriousness from this debate and the prior Republican ones.
“The questions were certainly more expansive and interesting than anything asked at the Republican debate,” said Cal Tormey of Urbandale. “Martin O’Malley really surprised me, it certainly gave me a more favorable impression of him … I wasn’t really familiar with him at all [beforehand], and came away with a really good impression. I thought Bernie came out looking great too, I like him a lot.”
“Bernie – he’s something different,” said Mike Gass when asked who he thought stood out the most. “I liked his thoughts on making college more affordable. I want my kids to do better than I have. My youngest one wants to be a veterinarian, and I’d like to see more help to her to achieve her dream.”
“I thought O’Malley did great – when you compare him to the others on the stage, he was very presidential,” said Lu Ann Pedrick. “Lincoln Chafee, I’ve held out some hope for him, I’ve met him and I think he’s a really nice guy, but he just didn’t fit in tonight. He wasn’t at the same level as everyone else.”
“Going into it, I didn’t know much about Martin O’Malley and where he stood, so getting that info was very helpful,” said Ashley McGuire. “It muddied waters for me in terms of the other candidates I’m currently considering. So it got him onto that level.”
“Hillary won the debate because she’s had so much practice with debates, so she already knows she’s going to get attacked,” offered Christian Ucles. “I think Sanders had the best line of the night [with the email server]. I think that’s going resonate with people in the Democratic primary – he’s going to cast a difference with her on policy … O’Malley did alright, but he could have done more. He had moments where he was trying to be too Obama-esque in the way he was putting his words together, when the debate was hyper-fast … Webb and Chafee don’t need to be there anymore.”
The bi-partisan debate watch party at the Drake Law School was one of a series of parties put on by a collaboration between the Drake Dems, Drake College Republicans, and the Drake Political Review. And while the presence of both parties kept any excessive Democratic celebration to a moderate and respectful level, the entire room seemed a bit solemn. Besides some concerned laughs when Jim Webb couldn’t list all his children and Lincoln Chaffee told Anderson Cooper he was being a bit harsh, only small pockets of applause and cheers were heard throughout the almost 2.5 hour event. In all honesty, the free pizza and candidate bingo game (with prizes) commanded more attention than the five candidates.
Hillary supporters, proudly adorned with buttons, cheered through Bernie’s dismissal of the email scandal and Hilary’s aggressive response to defunding Planned Parenthood. Bernie supporters, with their t-shirts and lap top stickers, were proud of the Vermont senator when he brought up climate change in his introduction and his smooth yet forceful speech about ‘Black Lives Matter.’ But the majority of the cheers and laughs followed Anderson Cooper’s numerous follow up questions forcing the candidates to answer the questions they were asked. Just as Martin O’Malley explained in his closing, Drake students appreciated the change from the circus that was the Republican debates and gaining actual insight into candidate platforms.
“I think it’s very interesting what’s happening in comparison to the GOP debates,” said Cecilia Bernard, a first year studying politics and economics. “This was more civil and supportive. Which is important. I really like how the debate is going. Anderson Cooper is doing a good job getting down to the nitty gritty. He’s not giving any softballs to anyone.”
“The debate is going interestingly enough,” said Austin Garner, a senior studying Radio and TV Production. “I wasn’t expecting the minor candidates to be punching up as much as they were. It’s very important for name recognition, especially since Clinton and Sanders are dominating the field.”
“I’m not watching as much as I did during the Republican debate,” admitted Madeline Meyer, a senior in Broadcast News and Journalism. “No one really stood out. It was interesting that they as a whole decided not to bring up Hilary Clinton’s email scandal. I don’t think that’s representative of the American people. People want to hear more about that.”
“O’Malley is really proving that he’s more and more of a contender,” said Taylor Robertson, an Economic and Finance sophomore.
“It’s very interesting to see the candidates separate themselves from each other,” thought Logan Kenter, a sophmore in Politics and Buisness. “Before, it was just Sanders and Clinton on the stage. Now the more minor candidates are getting some face time.”
O’Malley Campaign Watch Party in the East Village
Though he wasn’t the winner of the first Democratic presidential debate, Martin O’Malley still remained the first choice for Iowa voters who showed up to his debate watch party in Des Moines tonight. A group of about 35 supporters gathered to watch the former Maryland governor take the stage, and though their candidate did not get as much time as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the group still cheered at each time O’Malley spoke, giving an especially loud applause for the governor’s immigration reform and “who is your biggest enemy” answer. Audience members at the Des Moines party also booed any time fellow Democratic contender Lincoln Chafee spoke, often shouting, “Get off the stage!” and rolling their eyes at his weak answers. The group also did not care for Clinton’s remarks, but was not as negative toward her as they were Chafee.
“Clinton is pretty polished, is an experienced debater, but I think that Bernie Sanders look good to me,” said David Houston. “I would like to see him more. Martin O’Malley was also really strong, and now I want to go out and meet him when he comes back to Iowa.”
“I think Democrats are fortunate to have such a great slate of candidates to chose from, first of all,” said Deb Copeland. “I was certainly very pleased with O’Malley’s performance tonight. I think the American people saw someone who has really good ideas and actually has implemented those ideas on the state level. His vision of America is my vision of America.”
“I would have loved to hear more details of the things that Martin O’Malley has accomplished, but I think the moderators did a very good job at getting points from all the candidates,” offered another event attendee. “We had a lot of substance tonight, as opposed to the Republican debates.”
“I thought there was a clear contrast between the Democratic debate and the Republican debates,” said James Peterson. “The Republicans base their positions on fear, and I never heard anything fearful or castigating a class or segment of the population tonight like we heard in the Republican debate. I heard positive messages tonight, and I think there are definitely three people who are leading the campaign: Sanders, O’Malley, and Clinton. And I’m glad O’Malley is still hanging in there and still out on the trail. Tonight was a big night for him.”
by Sarah Beckman, Brayton Deprey and Pat Rynard