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Friday, April 16, 2021

UF student political organizations host virtual and in-person watch parties for the first presidential debate

US Election Debate Global Reaction

In this combination image of two photos showing both President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Conservative and liberal student organizations at UF finally agree on something: the first presidential debate was a mess.

Multiple UF student political organizations hosted events to watch the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night. Though they all watched the same debate, the formats of these watch parties differed. Some organizations chose to have their watch parties in-person, while others Zoomed during the debate.

The candidates debated each other on their records, the U.S. Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, racism and the integrity of the Nov. 3 election. Despite planned segments and timed statements, the debate quickly took a chaotic turn. Both Trump and Biden frequently interrupted and insulted each other, barely getting a word in. At one point Trump refused to condemn white supremacy, and Biden called Trump a clown.

UF College Republicans held a members-only in-person watch party at a house in the City of Alachua. The organization declined to comment further on the event.

UF College Democrats hosted a virtual watch event for the presidential debate attended by 23 people. Trey Hemond, a 21-year-old UF political science senior and the public relations director of the organization said the event was open to anyone who wanted to watch and discuss the debate.

Hosting the event over Zoom was a no-brainer when considering the safety of their members and the community safety, he said. The organization has held all its meetings over Zoom so far, and it planned the event online from the start.

Mitchell Reid, an 18-year-old UF sports management freshman, said the debate was like a “garbage fire.” He expected both candidates to talk over each other, but didn’t think it would be as chaotic as it was, with interruptions and yelling. He was glad the event was virtual, he said, given the circumstances with COVID-19. 

“It’s nice to know that I am not the only person who thinks this debate isn’t going great,” Reid said. “It’s a lot better than just sitting in my room alone for two hours.” 

Grace Parker, a 19-year-old UF psychology sophomore said she was offended when both candidates discussed the COVID-19 pandemic. She watched the debate from a quarantine dorm, Lakeside Complex, as she currently has the virus. 

“Listening to them beat around the bush and not discuss what they were meant to be discussing was absolutely enraging,” she said. 

Parker is not a member of the UF College Democrats, but she saw the link to the event in her Student Honors Organization group chat. She wanted to attend because she was interested in seeing commentary on the debate. 

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“I obviously can’t attend anything in person,” Parker said. “So still being able to be included in the commentary on this debate is something that made me feel a bit more connected, even though I'm being forced to isolate myself right now.”

UF Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative student political organization, hosted an in-person event at the Reitz Auditorium with a 32-person limit. Philip Smith, a 22-year-old UF agricultural operations management major and the organization’s president, said having the event in-person allowed the organization to interact with members directly. Attendees were given a bingo card to fill out as things happened during the debate, like Trump mentioning the “radical left” or calling the former vice president “sleepy Joe.” 

“This event was hosted to try and bolster education in our voters,” Smith said. “It's a show of faith in our community that we can just have an event, a responsible event, and have it go well.”

The debate itself was hard to watch, Smith said, and the candidates didn’t go as deep into policy issues as he wanted. 

“I think it was a failure of both candidates,” he said. “In the end, it turned out to be quite frustrating to watch.”

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Anna Wilder

Anna Wilder is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter. She's from Melbourne, Florida, and she enjoys being outdoors or playing the viola when she's not writing. 

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