Iowa City debate watch parties continue amid storms

The third presidential Democratic debate brought out dozens of Johnson County residents to watch with campaigns and fellow supporters. Here’s what Iowans thought of the debate.


Shivansh Ahuja

Bernie Sanders supporters watch the third Democratic Presidential Debate in Shambaugh Auditorium on Thursday, September 12, 2019.

DI Staff

The Daily Iowan fanned out across the Iowa City area on Thursday night to attend public debate watch parties hosted by nearly every participating candidate’s Iowa campaign. A severe storm warning went out in Johnson County during the debate, and some campaigns’ TV stream went out in the storm. Despite the iffy weather, in the county with the highest number of registered Democrats, campaigns turned out Iowans — at least 10 were at nearly every watch party the DI attended — to engage in the 2020 election.

Former Vice President Joe Biden:

A group of two dozen people (and one dog named Alexander the Great) broke out into applause and whoops when the former vice president told Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders he could “do something now” on health care. Biden emphasized he supported expanding the Affordable Care Act, and Sanders criticized Biden, saying that the mainstream system would cost more in the long term.

One attendee, Marjorie Tully, 65, worked on Biden’s presidential campaign in 2008. She said what resonated with her the most was the former vice president emphasizing practicality in health care.

“You can’t go from private insurance to government insurance in one big leap,” said Tully, who’s worked as a health-care administrator for most of her career.

Richard Huber, a 66-year-old Iowa City resident and Biden supporter, said he thought Biden’s rebukes to other candidates had gotten sharper, in a good way.

“I think he’s become a bit more savvy; there’s some passion there,” he said.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

In the basement of Booker supporter Matt Frazier’s home, 12 Iowans sat on couches, fold-out chairs, and pillows, waiting in anticipation of the internet to come back and the watch party to continue. In between TV outages, the attendees watched the debate on their phones.

“It’s good that [the debate stage] is narrowed down now,” said Frazier during an outage. “Now, I’d like to see the candidates start differentiating themselves. I feel like they’re all pretty much the same. But Booker is strong on guns, and that’s an issue I really care about. Booker is strong on minority issues, too, which is so important.”

Mike Weinard seconded Frazier’s support. “I’m for Cory because I think looking at the whole field of candidates, I think he is the one who has the best chance of reconciling the polarization and divisiveness. I think he has the best chance of being a uniter and bringing people in the country together after the election is over,” Weinard said.

South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg

At Studio 13, voters ate pizza and gathered at tables and stools on the dance floor to watch the debates. 53 attendees signed the check-in sheet, according to the campaign. Izzi Teduits, a Hawkeyes for Pete co-chair, said the bar reached out to the campaign to host the watch party.

Teduits said that some of the candidates, such as Biden, tend to get “jargony” when talking about policies she likes Buttigieg’s dialogue on the debate stage being calm and calculated.

“He’s very articulate when he speaks,” she said. “He speaks very poised, but he’s also very inclusive with how he speaks. It’s very easy to follow his points [and] what he wants to get across to the American people … he’s not throwing out numbers all the time.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

At Micky’s, around 10 Harris supporters sat at booths and tables. Sue Dvorsky and former Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, endorsed Harris over the summer and attended the Thursday watch party, sporting Harris T-shirts and hats.

Sue Dvorsky said she thought Harris’ opening statement, in wichh she directly addressed President Trump, was exactly the right tone. Harris’ experience as a prosecutor shows when she speaks on the debate stage, Dvorsky said, and that gives her an advantage.

“I look at these 10 [candidates], and I think my God — the smarts, the compassion, the gravitas, but when I look at [Harris], I see a primary winner, and I see a general-election winner, and then I see a president,” Dvorsky said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn

Around 12 people attended a watch party at a supporter’s home in Iowa City, gathered around the TV as the host’s dog greeted guests.

Iowa City resident Jackie DeMolee said although she is a volunteer for Klobuchar, she was impressed by performances by O’Rourke and Buttigieg as well.

DeMolee was not impressed by the more contentious debate on the stage, saying that as a Democrat, she hopes voters will be able to unify behind one candidate.

“I don’t really like the fighting, if at all possible. I understand the need for healthy debate over people’s positions — but ultimately I could do without that,” DeMolee said.

Attendee Missie Forbes said she is most drawn to Klobuchar’s speaking style.

“I like what [Klobuchar] has to say — she’s so diplomatic in her responses. She continually points out the similarities [candidates] have, not the differences,” Forbes said.

Former U.S. Rep. from Texas Beto O’Rourke

Around 30 people gathered in an Iowa City penthouse for O’Rourke, according to attendee and UI student Madison Palmer.

Palmer said she was especially impressed with O’Rourke’s thoughts on gun control. She became teary-eyed after O’Rourke’s speech early in the debate.

“You could tell in his eyes how much he actually cared,” she said. “It wasn’t just a politician talking about the points politicians usually talk about — he was speaking about one of the things he truly cares about. He speaks so well and so passionately.”

RELATED: Iowa City tunes into second night of July presidential debates

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Around 25 people, mostly students, gathered in the Shambaugh Auditorium to watch Sanders battle it out on the debate stage.

Iowa City resident and Sanders supporter Alecs Mickunas said he supports Sanders’ health-care plan and that is a major issue he is paying attention to. The debates began with Sanders sparring with other candidates over Medicare for All.

“It is good that [the candidates] say they want universal health care,” Mickunas said. “But I think that when they talk about ‘buying in’ to universal health care, what that means is you are going to pay for health care.”

UI juniors Calvin Hynek and Eric Kelly agreed that health care is an important issue but wished the candidates would speak more on climate change. Though the two back Sanders, they said Warren was doing well, too.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

When the internet went out at Warren’s field office in Iowa City, volunteers collected their resources, and the crowd of about 20 gathered around a volunteer’s phone to continue the watch party.

In the first hour of the debate, the audience was discouraged that Warren was not getting much speaking time in the debate.

“I want to say Warren [is standing out], but I haven’t heard enough from her to make a decision,” Kirkwood College student Lizzie Carrell said about whether Warren was doing well in the debate.

Carrell said Harris, O’Rourke, and Booker stood out to her in the first half of the debate.

Iowa City resident Zach Grewe said he was glad Warren and Sanders were promoting a progressive message to separate themselves from the other candidates and not going after each other, although the senators are neck-and-neck in polls.

“Two people in this race are offering us the whole cake, and everybody else just wants to offer a slice,” he said.