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Texas And Michigan Voters React To Debates

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When Democrats debated in Detroit last night, it was an advertisement for the candidates and for their party. So what did the intended audience think? We have responses this morning from two cities, beginning with Christopher Connelly of KERA, who watched the debate from Fort Worth, Texas.

CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: About 70 Democrats showed up to watch the debate in a big strip-mall bar and grill, and even some state House candidates came and gave speeches. Gwenn Burud handed out watch party bingo cards with categories like...

GWENN BURUD: "Medicare for All," gun control, minimum wage, candidates cut off by moderator because, you know, they speak too much.

CONNELLY: The crowd is overwhelmingly female, mostly professionals who want anybody but Trump in 2020. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris come up as favorites. Jill Grant says she came in expecting to like Joe Biden, but the self-described moderate liberal says he was underwhelming.

JILL GRANT: He is not the person that I thought he was. He seemed a little weak in his responses. But I am impressed with Gillibrand.

CONNELLY: New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who hasn't been polling at the top of the pile. Other people at the watch party were also interested in lesser-known candidates.

MELANIE WERTH: I was really impressed with Andrew Yang, also Jay Inslee.

CONNELLY: Realtor Melanie Werth says she wants big ideas about the environment, and she thinks one of the younger candidates might emerge as the best on climate change.

WERTH: I can see it, and I believe it, but they're going to be living it much longer than I am.

CONNELLY: College student Victor Prieto also worries about climate change, as well as immigration and criminal justice reform. And he thinks younger candidates are just more interesting.

VICTOR PRIETO: I will donate to Pete Buttigieg tonight, and also to Andrew Yang because, I mean, it's the only two I really, you know, connect with, I guess.

CONNELLY: Neither are polling particularly well right now, but Prieto thinks it's too early to worry about polls.

For NPR News, I'm Christopher Connelly in Fort Worth.

ELI NEWMAN, BYLINE: And I'm Eli Newman in Detroit.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Praying in foreign language).

NEWMAN: The debate watch party at the Islamic Center of Detroit wraps up as people head into evening prayers. The mosque sits on the border between Detroit and Dearborn, home to Henry Ford and one of the biggest Muslim communities in the United States. It's also home to Afnan Tolba, an incoming college freshman. She says for the most part, Dearborn isn't watching the debates.

AFNAN TOLBA: Not a lot of people care because they're not really being appealed to by the candidates onstage.

NEWMAN: Dearborn is also home to a large immigrant community.

TOLBA: There's, like, a very big portion of people that don't speak English. And the issues and politics that they're focused on - it's not health care.

NEWMAN: Tolba, who is Arab American, says most candidates haven't done enough outreach to minority voters.

TOLBA: A lot of the people that the Democrats are trying to appeal to - they don't care anymore because they feel like they've been left out by the system or they're just so divided.

NEWMAN: Abdul Shabazz is an officer with the Detroit Police Department. As an African American, he says when candidates talk about race, it's disingenuous.

ABDUL SHABAZZ: Like reparations - I think they're pandering to us, saying that they want - that African Americans want to hear in order to get the vote.

NEWMAN: Shabazz says the country's racial divide isn't going to be solved by electing a new person to office.

SHABAZZ: I don't really think that anybody, Democrat or Republican, can say, I'm going to become president, and race issues are going to be over because even when President Barack Obama was elected, that never stopped.

NEWMAN: He worries that infighting between candidates will give Trump ammo for when he goes one-on-one with whoever secures the nomination.

In Michigan, Democrats need to show up to win. In 2016, the party lost about 76,000 votes in Wayne County, and Trump won Michigan.

For NPR News, I'm Eli Newman in Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK MILK'S "PLAY THE KEYS (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.