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Local Democratic supporters watch the second night of the Democratic debate at Flicker Theatre and Bar on June 27, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. Due to the amount of candidates, the debate was split into two nights. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

Organized by the Athens-Clarke County Democratic Committee, the first 2020 Democratic presidential debates saw senior citizens, local activists and college students gather to watch on June 26 and 27. The two-night event featured the 20 Democratic candidates who met specific polling and donation requirements to qualify.

“This is the first time we’ve done something like this,” chair of the ACC Democratic Committee Denise Ricks said.

Over 30 people come for each showing and a considerable number of the audience were UGA students.

Round One

Night one was held at Little Italy in downtown. Athens residents watched Democrats Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julián Castro, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee and John Delaney as they discussed issues ranging from immigration to gun laws.

Although the room appeared to be slightly exasperated by the candidates' long-winded answers, the audience watched intently as Tim Ryan and Tulsi Gabbard sparred over foreign policy, cheered loudly about Elizabeth Warren’s plan for climate change and laughed confusedly as first O’Rourke, then Booker and then Castro took turns delivering their answers in Spanish.

“I felt like the people speaking Spanish were trying to one-up each other except for Julian Castro,” UGA second-year student Caroline Caden said. “I feel like it was appropriate for him, but for other people to go off and spout off a couple of phrases, I got a bad message from it.”

Caden saw the watch party's Facebook event page and came with her friend and fellow UGA student Michaela Wilkins. Wilkins, a rising third year, said many of the candidates’ arguments fell in line with her political stances, but said she did not like how many of the candidates conducted themselves.

“All of the women were very composed and a lot of men were speaking over one another. It felt super unprofessional,” Wilkins said.

Round Two

Night two featured the audience gathering at Flicker Theatre and Bar to watch Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet and Eric Swalwell.

The night featured the candidates discussing overlapping topics such as healthcare and immigration. Some responses, like Sanders' defense of Medicare-for-all and Buttigieg’s comments on the situation at America’s southern border, drew loud cheers from attendees.

The audience watched as Swalwell took shots at Biden and Buttigieg while Harris criticized Biden’s civil rights track record. One attendee was Zane Malas, a rising senior at UGA and state committee member of the Democratic party of Georgia.

“This just reminded me why I don’t like debates,” Malas said. “I think we just get caught in who said the coolest thing at the right time in the coolest way. It more of a Super bowl than an intellectual decision who should run the country.”

As the crowd dispersed just after 11 p.m. following the debate’s end, Ricks felt optimistic about this election’s future.

“I think we have a good opportunity. I think we have a lot of qualified candidates,” Ricks said. “Once they narrow it down to [one] candidate, people will be supportive of that candidate unlike the 2016 election with Bernie Sanders.”

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