Iowa City tunes into second July presidential debate night

At three watch parties across Iowa City, many attendees said a lot of the debate was taken up by mudslinging Joe Biden.


Ryan Adams

Nicholas Johnson and Mary Vasey of Iowa City watch the debate at Airliner for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on July 31, 2019. This is the second night of the second round of debates for democratic candidates. (Ryan Adams/The Daily Iowan)

DI Staff

All across Iowa City, one of Iowa’s bluest areas, residents turned out to watch the second night of the Democratic presidential debates on July 31.

Candidates clashed over and discussed health care, immigration, foreign policy, and climate change, among other topics. Former Vice President Joe Biden, in particular, continually fended off attacks from others on the debate stage, as many attendees at three candidate-sponsored watch parties characterized the debates. Some thought that was positive, and others wished there wasn’t so much infighting.

Candidates such as California Sen. Kamala Harris, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard jabbed at Biden over health care and environmental plans, saying his policies weren’t drastic enough. Biden, in turn, defended his record and criticized the cost of Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal.

The Harris campaign hosted three watch parties around Johnson County. Close to the University of Iowa campus, a couple dozen people watched the debate on a projection screen at Studio 13 while chowing on provided oranges, Oreos, and chips and salsa.

Many attendees at the Harris watch party thought too much of the debate was taken up with candidates criticizing Biden.

UI student Kofi Opam shared that opinion, noting the back and forth between Biden and Harris on health care specifically. He wanted more details and “bold strokes” from the candidates on policy positions, he said.

“I don’t want to see people arguing like a reality show,” Opam said. “I want to see them talking about policy.”

Attendees watch the Democratic debate at the Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., watch party in Studio 13 on July 31. (Roman Slabach/The Daily Iowan)Att

Opam hasn’t yet decided whom he’ll caucus for, saying he is going to attend various candidate events to get a feel for the presidential field.

Harris recently released a Medicare-for-all plan that Biden contended would take away private insurance [not entirely true] and would cost too much and take too long to be worth it. Harris fired back that Biden’s plan wouldn’t adequately address the costs of health care.

During the June debates, Harris sparred with Biden over his record on race and school busing.

One attendee, Clancy Clark of Iowa City, said he thought the moderate and left wings of the Democratic Party needed to hash out their differences.

He has donated to and volunteered for the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Jennifer De La Cruz said she believed Harris had the strongest policy delivery. She especially liked the teacher’s stipend Harris proposed this spring.

RELATED: Iowa City voters react to the first night of July debates.

Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign hosted a watch party at Mosley’s in Iowa City. Around 10 attendees watched the debates while enjoying barbecue and drinks.

Iowa City resident and member of Johnson County Democrats Jennifer Patel has a few candidates she is considering, although she likes Booker as an alternative to Trump and enjoys that he follows a vegetarian diet.

Patel felt that the candidates’ gripes with each other were focused on policy, not personal attacks.

“I think it’s helpful to have them talk about what their differences are — what I really like is [that] all of the argument has been on policy — there are no personal attacks,” Patel said.

Ryan Adams
Lucas Adolphson and Caleb Rainey of Iowa City talk at the bar during a debate watch party for Sen. Cory Booker on July 31. This is the second night of the second round of debates for the Democratic candidates. (Ryan Adams/The Daily Iowan)

Dan Daly of Iowa City said he likes Booker — though he is not currently Daly’s top choice.

“I’m not all in for Cory Booker — if I had to pick one, it would have to be [Sen.]Elizabeth Warren. Cory [Booker] and Kamala [Harris] are close seconds,” he said. “There’s an embarrassment of riches in good candidates.”

Colleen Schitt of Iowa City said gun control is one of the most important issues for her — a topic that wasn’t featured as heavily on the stage. She also wishes candidates would talk more about constitutional issues such as reforming the Electoral College.

On the second floor of the Airliner, 15 attendees munched on food while craning their necks to watch the debate on three TVs mounted on the walls. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand supporters cheered and snapped their fingers when she made points and discussed different chants shouted from the crowd throughout the debate.

Iowa City resident Mary Hoefer has a few candidates she likes, including Gillibrand, Warren, and Booker, and a few more she doesn’t like.

Booker stood out for her on July 31 on immigration, and she was impressed when he pointed out that dividing Democrats on the details of immigration is just what Republicans want. Booker first brought up this idea during the discussion on health care.

Health care was the first issue discussed at the debate, and candidates went back and forth on different plans. Hoefer said she’s been glad to see the the large spotlight on a Medicare-for-all plan.

“I’m not sure I would support a candidate who didn’t support Medicare-for-all,” she said.

Ryan Adams
Attendees of the Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand watch party look on as candidates enter the stage for the second night of debates on July 31. (Ryan Adams/The Daily Iowan)

UI graduate student Maria Morabe also noted the significance of bringing health care to the forefront of the debate. Although discussing the finer points of universal health care is important, she said, it’s more important to have a candidate whom everyone can rally behind.

Like Hoefer, Morabe is using the debates to weed out candidates she doesn’t like and learn more about the candidates she does.

Biden was low on both Morabe’s and Hoefer’s lists, and Hoefer said she wished that Biden stop running.

“It seems like [Biden] isn’t doing a very good job of responding to [candidates’] attacks,” Morabe said.