For two nights, Vicenta Montoya hunkered down at Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada’s office to watch 20 presidential candidates — 10 each night — spar over which policies are best for the country and what it’s going to take to remove Donald Trump from the White House.
Montoya, who said there are many viable candidates who have a chance to beat President Trump, was hopeful recurring themes such as making fixes to the healthcare system or combating racism and white supremacy are included in candidate’s visions.
However, amid the clamor, specifics could be hard to discern.
“I think there is a lot of confusion around the nuances of some of these health care plans and immigration plans,” said Donna West, the chair of the Clark County Democrats, which also hosted debate parties. “Only having one minute to answer questions is very insufficient.”
The first night of this week’s presidential Democratic debate hosted by CNN Tuesday and Wednesday featured U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Tim Ryan, Rep. John Delaney, Gov. Steve Bullock, Gov. John Hickenlooper and author Marianne Williamson.
The second night’s line-up was Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Michael Bennet, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Jay Inslee and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
When she asked those attending, West estimated about two-thirds of watchers have settled on a candidate.
At PLAN’s office — cosponsored by Mi Familia Vota and Planned Parenthood Action — Nicole Luscombe favored Warren but was open to seeing if another candidate might sway her. “I wouldn’t say I’m for other people, but I would say don’t sleep on Klobuchar either,” she said after the first debate.
Others in attendance were ready to see candidates in action and perhaps even learn about those who aren’t leading in the polls. “I don’t think Inslee can make it but I just loved him,” Montoya said on the second night. “He is someone I admire. I didn’t know anything about him prior to the debates.”
For those ready for candidates to land punchy lines, there were plenty of moments each night that sparked collective responses from the crowds.
People laughed, clapped and cheered at lines such from Sanders response “I wrote the damn bill” when he was accused of not knowing what Medicare for All would do.
“I think Mayor Pete (Buttigieg) was absolutely dead on in that matter what the Democrats get up there and do the Republicans are going to call us socialists at the end of the day so you might as well go out there and stand up for the policy that is the best,” Luscombe said, referencing another crowd favorite of the evening.
One of the most boisterous responses was Warren’s retort to Delaney: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
The second night, with a smaller turnout and a quieter audience, had a few lines that prompted outbursts from watchers, such as Booker’s “you’re dipping into the Kool-aid and don’t even know the flavor” line, or just about anytime Inslee spoke about climate change.
Gillibrand’s call to use her white privilege to reach out to other white women — white women overwhelmingly voted for Trump — drew big reactions, though mixed. One part of the crowd responded with incredulous laughter while others clapped in appreciation.
Just around the corner at the SEIU office, the Clark County Democrats watch party had similar reactions. People, West noted, were the most animated every time candidates, like Booker and Castro, took jabs at Biden.
Similarly at PLAN, a silent room erupted when Castro landed his “It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn’t” line in response to a back-and-forth with Biden on immigration.
Montoya, who caucused for Biden in 2008, didn’t like that he “tries to ride Obama’s coattails” when it’s convenient.
With a crowded stage that lead to candidates fighting for their moments, there wasn’t a lot of time to go in-depth on complicated proposals — a detriment to voters.
What’s more, West said people were disappointed that moderators “used their time to pit candidates against each other” rather than dive deeper in policy discussions. Additionally, people were hoping important topics like the opioid crisis, education and paid family leave would have been given significant time.
West suggested topic-driven debates, such as an entire debate on climate change or foreign policy, would be a better approach and prevent surface-level discussions that hinges on talking points.
As the herd thins and less people qualify for debates, West hopes candidates should have more time to answer questions.
But following this debate, Nevada has an opportunity other states might not have. The majority of candidates will be hosting town halls and other community events ahead of the AFSCME presidential forum on Saturday — 17 candidates are slated to talk about how their plans affect public service workers.
If debate watchers were intrigued by certain candidates, they now have the ability to check out some of those candidates out firsthand. “It gives them a chance to go out and hear more and maybe have their questions answered,” West added.