Ohio Democratic debate draws locals to watch party


More than 40 people gathered to watch the debate on television, on at the LaRosa’s in Oxford. Audience members showed their support for individual candidates as they came on screen, such as the woman in the front row waving a sign for Amy Klobuchar. Photo by Josiah Collins

By Josiah Collins

Local residents watched and commented from Oxford Tuesday night as 12 contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination took the stage at Otterbein University near Columbus, for a three-hour debate.

The 12 candidates who met the polling and fundraising criteria for the debate set by the Democratic National Committee were: Former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Sen. Kamala Harris of California; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.; Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas; Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro of Texas; Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey; Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Businessman Andrew Yang; Businessman Tom Steyer; and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.  

Meanwhile here in Oxford, a group of local Democrats gathered to watch the event on a big screen TV for a Debate Party at the local LaRosa’s Pizzeria, as they have done for the three previous debates this year. Steve Jamison, a member of the party and an organizer of the local event, said he was thrilled to see the number of people in attendance for the evening.

“I’m glad in the fourth debate we still had 40 people show up,” Jamison said.

They not only showed up, they were engaged, reacting to points made or missed by individual candidates during the three-hour debate. Harris’ stance on women getting reproductive healthcare got rousing applause around the room, and when Buttigieg went at O’Rourke for his lack of plans surrounding buybacks on assault rifles the room collectively let out “oohs and aahs.”

Much of the night centered on the hot topics like impeachment, healthcare, Vice President Biden’s son Hunter’s work in Ukraine and the moderators even asked questions about the candidates’ health and physical fitness for the job.  Biden, Sanders and Warren, all are in their 70s and Sanders suffered a heart attack earlier this month. All three claimed to be feeling great and ready for the job. They also noted that President Trump is in his 70s.

In addition to those at the Oxford party, the Observer also gathered online comments from local residents who watched the debate at home.

Applause from the audience in Oxford indicated the top moments for some of the candidates, such as when Buttigieg called out Biden, Warren and Sanders on what he considered policy flaws, or when Steyer, the only billionaire in the group, said he supported increasing taxes on billionaires. Klobuchar who has been trending toward the middle in the polls, continually drew applause from the audience for her ideas and rebuttals.

Matt Ganis of Oxford said: “As for who stood out, I thought the midwestern moderates, Klobuchar and Buttigieg, distinguished themselves.” Still however, they didn’t do enough to put them over the top candidates. “At this point I will still pull the lever for Elizabeth Warren,” Ganis said.

Based on the audience applause in Oxford, Harris maintained a good standing throughout most of the debate, and Booker’s backing of her idea for reproductive healthcare for women got him much applause. Biden struggled a bit, and Warren was under constant attack from other candidates for things such as her unclear plan on how to apply Medicare for All, or her claim that the other candidates were being protective of billionaires.

Unfortunately for Gabbard, who wanted to make a mark in this debate, she may have separated herself even further from the pack, in the minds of some in the Oxford community.

“I’m afraid Tulsi Gabbard lost my interest all together last night,” Rene’ Hinkle McKinstry, of Oxford, said in response to an Observer query on Facebook.

Other community members felt the same sentiment toward Gabbard when the night came to a close. “She sounded like a right-winger on Tuesday night,” Brian Revalee, of Oxford, said.

Buttigieg may be moving in the right direction after asserting himself in the debate.

“I would love for him to get the nom, but see him as a strong contender for VP under a Warren nomination,” Revalee said.

Some did have their opinions changed after the debate about who they have in the lead.

“As of the end of the debate last night, Warren has gained a slight lead over Joe,” Michael Richardson, of Oxford, said on Facebook.

In the wrap-up of the watch party at LaRosa’s, many were pleased with how the overall debate went. Don Daiker, president of the Butler County Ohio Progressive Action Committee, offered his reflection of the night.

“It was important, honest, and candid and I think they’re talking about the key issues,” Daiker said.

The next Democratic debate will be Nov. 20, at a site to be selected in the Atlanta area. Thus far only eight of the 12 candidates who debated this week have met the national party’s increasingly stringent requirements for numbers of donors and polling numbers to participate: Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Booker, Buttigieg, Yang, and Steyer. Klobuchar, Gabbard, Castro and O’Rourke still are seeking to get their numbers to the needed levels.