Iowa City voters react to the first night of July debates

Democratic presidential-nomination campaigns held watch parties across Iowa City on the first night of the second round of presidential debates.


Katie Goodale

Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, D-VT, watch the debates from his campaign office in Iowa City on July 30, 2019. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

DI staff

Iowa City residents were tuned into the second round of Democratic debates on the evening of July 30 to watch 10 candidates spar for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Several campaigns hosted debate watch parties across town, and some Iowa City voters say now is about time that the debates become more fiery among the wide field of candidates, while others looked forward to a smaller batch of candidates on the debate stage.

In Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Iowa City campaign office, around 25 voters sat on lawn chairs and folding chairs to watch the Detroit debate and have conversations during commercial breaks on hot-button topics.

Greg Nalley, a West Branch resident and Sanders supporter, said he likes the Medicare-for-all health-care plan, and he approved of Sanders challenging the candidates who support other policies.

“We’re never going to get off center if you’re always on the center,” Nalley said, referring to moderate Democrats. “You have to reach for something.”

Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren sparred with candidates, including Rep. Tim Ryan and former Rep. John Delaney, over whether a Medicare-for-all plan would be realistic and if Americans should be taken off their private, employer-provided health-care plans.

“The important thing about the expression of political rage is that it be backed by genuine truth and honesty, as opposed to uncivil lying,” said Coen Olsen, a Sanders supporter and Iowa City resident. “I appreciate political rage that is expressed for appropriate reasons.”

Health care was a major topic during the July 30 debate, along with gun violence, immigration, climate change, racial inequality, and foreign policy.

Approximately a mile away, the presidential campaign for Mayor Pete Buttigieg hosted a gathering of around 30 voters at the Sanctuary Pub.

Voters chatted over pizza and drinks and some attendees said they were all-in for Buttigieg, while others were still considering other candidates.

Katie Goodale
Supporters of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg cheer after his closing remarks on TV in Sanctuary Pub on July 30. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Stacy Medd of Coralville, who said she has supported Buttigieg since she attended a rally a few months ago, would like to see him in a debate with President Trump.

“I think [Buttigieg] is doing a great job as always — he’s very articulate in a way that he maintains a calm demeanor while still being assertive,” Medd said. “I would love to see his words match Donald Trump’s words.”

Lillian McKenzie of Iowa City, who is all in for Buttigieg, wishes there were more discussion on foreign policy, because Buttigieg served in Afghanistan.

“I would’ve liked to see [Buttigieg speak] more when they were talking about foreign policy and the war that we’re going through, since he’s the only one on stage who actually served … and actually has a first point view of what’s going on over there,” McKenzie said.

The Beto O’Rourke campaign hosted a more intimate watch party at an Iowa City organizer’s home, in which 10 attendees supporting a variety of candidates sat in a living room to watch the debate. They roasted marshmallows, ate pizza, and played bingo with cards filled with policy topics and well-known O’Rourke quotes.

Steph Beecher, who owns the residence, played with her dog on the floor while the candidates faced off on policies. Beecher said she liked the back-and-forth many candidates engaged in, because it gave viewers the opportunity to see if candidates can defend their policies and deal with dissent.

She compared the debate to sports, with moderators refereeing the candidates when necessary.

“You should let the players play, then step in when you need to step in … you’ve got to let them have at it,” she said.

Katie Goodale
Supporters of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke watch the debates in an Iowa City residence on July 30. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Noah Pavelich, an O’Rourke supporter and a 16-year-old City High student, won’t be able to vote in the upcoming election. But Pavelich has thrown his support behind O’Rourke and remains politically aware ahead of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Climate change is the issue Pavelich cares the most about, he said, because it’s something that will affect people for generations to come if it is not addressed.

“[Climate change is] such a complex issue — why are we only giving it a couple of minutes?” Pavelich said. “We should give it at least a couple of hours, but we’re only using it as a talking point.”

O’Rourke addressed Iowa farmers while talking about climate change and trade tariffs, as he did in the June debates, saying farmers are being treated unfairly as a result of the Trump administration’s trade policies.

Warren’s campaign also held a watch party at the campaign’s Iowa City field office.

In order to have qualified for this round of debates, the candidates needed to have 65,000 unique campaign donors with at least 200 donors in 20 states, or the candidates needed to poll at a minimum of 1 percent in three polls recognized by the Democratic national committee.

The other half of qualifying candidates will debate in Detroit on July 31. The third round of presidential-nomination debates will be held in September.

These are the candidates that debated July 30:

  • Marianne Williamson, author and activist
  • Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren,
  • Beto O’Rourke, former Texas representative
  • John Hickenlooper, former Colorado governor
  • John Delaney, former Maryland representative
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock