Local democrats, in conjunction with the Biden/Harris presidential campaign, held a debate watch party Thursday night at Rue Bourbon in Midtown. The establishment is run and owned by Kaya and Kevin Stanley, who were present at the event and were conscientious about COVID-19 protocols.
The host and main feature of the party was U.S. House candidate Patricia Ackerman (D). Also in attendance was Kurt Thigpen, trustee-elect for Washoe County school board, well-wishers, local activists and the general public. Attendees attempted to abide by social distancing and mask guidelines.
Naturally, a lot of talk before the debate was on how Democratic candidate Joe Biden may fare against Republican incumbent Donald Trump. As the debates began in earnest and the focus turned to the TV screens tuned to CNN, the room’s bar and patio became quiet and were surprisingly hushed for the duration of the debate.
There were several points in the debate about coronavirus, health care and each candidate’s finances.
The moderator, NBC’s Kristen Welker, appeared to have better control over the forum than her predecessor Chris Wallace in the first debate between the two candidates.
A flashpoint between Trump and Biden during the event was the issue of the 545 immigrant children who’ve yet to be reunited with the parents from whom they were taken and the migrant crisis that occurred early in the Trump administration. The exchange between the two candidates focused on who was at fault for the origin of the caging of people and immigration policies.
This is notable for several reasons in reference to voting constituencies and political favorability. In 2018, this controversy was cited as one of the multiple reasons why suburban women voters began to shift away from Donald Trump and the Republicans, adding to the Blue Wave of 2018.
Local Democrats pleased with Biden performance
During and after the debate, I had a chance to speak to a couple of attendees at the event about their thoughts on Biden’s chances for a win and how his performance stacked up against Trump’s. Those at the watch party–Democrats–were already sympathetic to Biden’s cause but felt he hit upon the key policy positions that they’d prioritized and was a calming presence in the debate.
Their opinions of Trump–naturally, based on the audience–were that he was more subdued and better behaved than in the first debate. It almost appeared like a traditional presidential debate, with a bit more color.
“I appreciated that we could hear a little bit better than the first one,” said Geneva Wolfe, president of the University of Nevada, Reno Young Democrats. “I appreciated that the mics were muted and that the moderator was able to carry along the conversation pretty smoothly. I felt that Biden did a fantastic job laying out his campaign policies and his and Kamala’s future goals for our country.”
Wolfe said she was especially pleased with Biden’s take on climate change and said it gives people her age hope. “It was inspiring to hear Biden’s pieces, but it was also intense to watch how Trump totally disregarded the fact that climate change is real and that the administration has not done anything to combat it.”
As a point of contrast, I was at the first presidential debate at the Trump Victory office with party faithful, what seems like a lifetime ago in late September. That event featured former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, and the Nevada State Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, who granted me an interview as well after the event.
In that interview, chairman McDonald was focused and confident that President Trump had won the day in that debate and said those watching with him were passionate as well. This was an interesting and I think important point of information because when looking back at that point in time, and with a great deal of understanding and reflection, a great deal has happened since then.
“It drew a contrast right away, right from the beginning about what the President is able to accomplish and what Joe Biden over the last 47 years has not,” said McDonald of the first debate. “The President has been very on point and his messaging has been great…I think the President, right from the beginning, set the tone, and Joe Biden was on his heels on several issues.”
Contrasting moments in time
There’s been a unique change of momentum since the first debate in September. At that event the energy in the room felt like the momentum was with the Republicans and that Donald Trump appeared to be doing no wrong, even in the face of bad news from coronavirus issues, polling data and the state of the economy.
Now, it appears that the momentum and energy is with the Democrats. After Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, two highly controversial rallies in northern Nevada — in Minden and Carson City — , and the fact that we’re in the midst of early and mail-in voting, it appears that the Democrats seem to be dominating. Last night’s room of Democrats, who are in the field and on the doorstep, appeared to be more confident, yet still cautious that things are going their way.
As we go forward with the remaining days of the election I want to be cautious. I want to be careful. If I’ve learned anything about politics in this era it’s: don’t count Donald Trump out; things can change on a dime, and polling data and voter numbers can change quicker than you can say October surprise.
CORRECTION: This story was corrected to reflect that Kurt Thigpen is a trustee-elect for Washoe County School District Board of Trustees, not a candidate.
Don Dike-Anukam is a Reno native attending college in northern Nevada. He has been involved in activist politics for 15 years on and off, and has been involved in multiple campaigns in multiple positions in that time. He also was a college radio political, news, and talk-show host covering a range of stories from hostage standoffs, fires, interviews, and public speeches.