Metro, News

Students evaluate Democratic presidential candidates

Watch parties feature discussion of impeachment, Sanders’ heart health

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Students gathered at 85 Waterman Street to watch 12 Democratic presidential candidates speak about why they are best suited to lead the nation and take on President Trump in the general election next November.

Dozens of University students flocked to 85 Waterman St. yesterday for the Brown College Dems’ second primary debate watch party of the year.

It was the fourth Democratic presidential debate in a primary race that has been cast as a contest between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party, both of which are vying to offer the vision for a post-Trump era.

Students headed to the College Dems’ watch party eager to hear about how the 2020 contenders felt about the recent impeachment inquiry against President Trump — with many of them hoping that it would not overpower discussions about policy. The group most frequently applauded the contributions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has risen to the top of the Democratic field in recent national polls. In contrast, the punch lines from Andrew Yang ’96 fell flat in the room, often met with silence.

“I think Elizabeth Warren did a good job,” said Jed Fox ’23, who has not yet decided who will earn his vote. “I just think she had the most coherent responses.”

An Oct. 2-3 Herald poll of 1,000 Brown students found split candidate preferences among those who plan on voting in the Democratic primary. The poll found Warren to be the most popular candidate on campus — with 24.2 percent of students polled responding that they would vote for the senator if the Democratic primary were that day. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) garnered the second-most responses with 12.2 percent, and Yang came in third with 10.1 percent of student support.

The Tuesday debate was the first time the majority of 2020 Democratic candidates were in the same room since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The move to formally investigate the president followed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump had asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former vice president Joe Biden.

“It is definitely an important issue that we have to discuss because the things Trump has been charged with definitely need to be considered,” said Ben Lipson ’22, political director for Brown Dems. “I have faith in the Democratic candidates to have these discussions”

Students listened carefully to Biden’s response to the whistleblower revelations. On the debate stage, the former vice president framed Trump’s attacks against him as proof that he could “beat him like a drum” in the general election. The remark elicited a weak applause from the student crowd. According to the Herald poll, only 8.7 percent of students polled would vote for Biden if the Democratic presidential primary were that day. Nationally, the former vice president has a polling average of around 29.4 percent, according to RealClearPolitics.

Watch party attendees were also eager to see how Sanders would perform in his first national event since his campaign confirmed he suffered a heart attack Oct. 1. During the debate, Sanders assured voters that he was “feeling great!” Students applauded in response.

Samy Amkieh ’21, an organizer for Brown Students for Bernie, did not think Sanders’ recent hospitalization should be cause for concern. “It’s a very common procedure,” Amkieh said. “He’ll put it to bed during the debate.”

Although the qualification requirements for the debates have grown increasingly stringent, the stage was packed with 12 candidates, two more than were present in September. Both Tom Steyer — the billionaire former hedge fund manager who launched his campaign in July — and Tulsi Gabbard — the Hawaiian congresswoman who recently threatened to boycott the debate — barely met the requisite polling and donation numbers last month.

The Brown Dems were not the only ones to host debate watch parties. The Brown Political Review, Machado’s Latinx House and Students for Warren also hosted students to watch the debate.

Marianna Scott ’21, an editor-in-chief of BPR, said she wanted to see the candidates “spend more time on things I think are really, really important issues, like foreign policy.” She walked away from the evening satisfied with the quality of discourse on stage, she said.

Nathaniel Pettit ’20, one of the organizers in the Students for Warren group, praised Warren’s preparedness on stage. “She just shines in debates, it’s hard to really expect a lot more,” he said.

For Gus Stephens ’20, President of Latinx House, the debate was a chance for the house to engage with the primary debates and celebrate the end of Hispanic Heritage month. “We decided to make this our way of staying civically engaged after the month,” he said. “One thing that came up in the discussion of hosting the debate was that there is one Latino candidate on the stage, but it is nice to see some representation.”

—Additional reporting by Dylan Clark

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