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.
In a house in Groveport south of Columbus, a few dozen guests were spread out on chairs and sofas in the living room and the finished basement, watching their candidate Hillary Clinton. This was one of several watch parties the Clinton campaign organized around central Ohio. These Clinton volunteers were intently watching and reacting, even as some got up to grab food and drinks from the spread laid out on the long brick bar at the back of the room. Among them was Ben Rowles, a human resources consultant from Reynoldsburg east of Columbus. Halfway through the debate he said he was pleased with Clinton’s performance – and in her answers, which he said were 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.”
Houleye Thaim from Columbus is a case manager with Children and Family Services. She was wearing a Clinton campaign T-shirt and was very enthusiastic about her candidate’s performance so far. And she said the first thing she noticed wasn'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," Thaim said. "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 said he hopes Clinton was able to reach out to millennial voter and Bernie Sanders supporters, and Thaim said she thinks Trump’s approach – as she put it, Donald Trump being Donald Trump – may have convinced undecided voters to choose her.
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,” Garvin said.
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 said 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," Gilmore said. "If Trump wouldn’t have gotten off topic it probably would have been a lot better for him.”
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," Rowles said. “So far I’ll give Hillary and A, and because Donald’s been kind of polite – a D,” said Thaim.
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,” said Garvin. “I’d probably put Trump around a B. I’d probably put Hillary around the same. They both had some good liners and stuff,” Gilmore said.
These supporters will almost certainly be watching their candidate – and the opponent – in the next two presidential debates. The next one is October 9.