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Government & Politics

Clinton and Trump Supporters Size Up How Their Candidates Did in the Debates

photo of a Clinton debate watch party
A Clinton debate watch party

Among the tens of millions of people watching last night’s first presidential debate were dozens of volunteers and supporters in central Ohio, at gatherings put together by the Clinton and Trump campaigns. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler stopped by two of them.

In a house in Groveport south of Columbus, a few dozen guests are spread out on chairs and sofas in the living room and the finished basement party room, watching their candidate Hillary Clinton.

This is one of several watch parties the Clinton campaign has organized around central Ohio. These Clinton volunteers are intently watching and reacting, even as some get up to grab food and drinks from the spread laid out on the long brick bar at the back of the room. Among them is Ben Rowles, a human resources consultant from Reynoldsburg east of Columbus. Halfway through the debate he says he’s pleased with Clinton’s performance – and in her answers, which he says are specific.

“I think there is a tenor, a temperament that is appropriate for the office that she’s seeking as president and I think that she is really showing great command of the topics that are being inquired in.”

photo of Ben Rowles and Houleye Thaim
Ben Rowles and Houleye Thaim watch the debate at a home in Groveport, just south of Columbus

Houleye Thaim from Columbus is a case manager with Children and Family Services. She’s wearing a Clinton campaign T-shirt and is very enthusiastic about her candidate’s performance so far. And she says the first thing she noticed weren’t necessarily Clinton’s words – it was her overall presence and attitude.

“She has a commander-in-chief demeanor. She is calm, even though she’s been attacked all night long. She’s responding in a very calm manner. She’s been able to articulate what she’s going to do for the country which she has actually answered the questions which her opponent has not been able to do.”

Rowles says he hopes Clinton was able to reach out to millennial voter and Bernie Sanders supporters, and Thaim says she thinks Trump’s approach – as she put it, Donald Trump being Donald Trump – may have convinced undecided voters to choose her.

Trump watch party

photo of Melanie Garvin
Melanie Garvin, at a Trump debate-watch party in Hilliard

Across town in Hilliard on Columbus’ west side, the Trump campaign has gathered in a private room at a big chain restaurant and bar known for its arcade games. Several dozen people are seated at tables and have ordered food while they watched their candidate Donald Trump.  And for as animated as Trump rallies have been, this event was almost as quiet. Melanie Garvin from Columbus is a teacher in the Hilliard schools.

“I thought he did a very good job of defending a lot of the attacks from Mrs. Clinton. I thought that a lot of the questions were definitely were geared more toward an easy response from Mrs. Clinton versus putting Mr. Trump on the hot seat.”

photo of Michael Gilmore
Trump supporter Michael Gilmore at a debate watch party in Hilliard

Garvin thinks Trump may have convinced some undecided voters and brought in some African American and Hispanic voters to his campaign. Michael Gilmore from Croton northeast of Columbus works in the fast food industry, and says he’s a Trump supporter but even more emphatically against Clinton.

“It was definitely interesting, definitely worth a few laughs at least. They went back and forth over a couple of things. If Trump wouldn’t have gotten off topic it probably would have been a lot better for him.”

Grading the performance
But the grades the supporters gave their candidates may really show their enthusiasm for this debate performance. Rowles and Thaim were happy and generous.

“I’d give her an A and I would give Donald, a C- just because he hasn’t blown up.”

“So far I’ll give Hillary and A, and because Donald’s been kind of polite – a D.”

Garvin and Gilmore were more reserved.

“About a B, and I’m trying to be fair across the board. I’d say about a B for both of them.”

“I’d probably put Trump around a B. I’d probably put Hillary around the same. They both had some good liners and stuff.”

Next up
These supporters will almost certainly be watching their candidate – and the opponent – in the next two presidential debates. The next one is October 9.