As this report goes out, it is National Voter Registration Day in the U.S. and 40 days to the day Americans go cast their vote to choose their next President. It is 24 hours since TV channel records were broken as 84 million people across the country tuned into their television sets to watch the first of three debates between the Presidential-race candidates – Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump.
Many millions also watched the debate via live streams on the web. The writer was at a watch-party organized by the Denver Press Club in Colorado state – considered a battleground as historically it has voted Republican but has swung towards the Democrats since the 1990. The crowd sharing pizza and beer around the projector screen was largely Clinton supporters as the state capital of Denver is a liberal one.
Lester Holt, NBC’s prime time anchor was the moderator at the first presidential debate held at Hofstra University in New York state.
Holt fired pointed questions at both candidates about jobs, transparency, Trump’s tax returns, Clinton’s email scandal, and racial tensions in the United States. The debate was divided into six segments, each 15 minutes long and the questions broadly fell into the categories of ‘Achieving prosperity; America’s direction; and securing America.’
The 90-minute debate was tamer than what many had anticipated and popular opinion was that it was ‘more of the same of what the election campaign had been’. The writer’s personal opinion was that it was a tie between the two. This opinion was seconded by Jeff Hunt, Director of Centennial Institute – a conservative policy think tank. “Clinton made some sharp jabs at Trump while he got out his sledge hammer when he felt he wanted to hammer his point in.”
According to the TIME magazine, Trump interrupted Clinton and Holt 55 times to make his point heard.
Clinton got her jab in after Trump attempted to blame her for jobs fleeing the U.S. for cheaper shores like Mexico and China – “I call it trumped-up trickle-down, because that’s exactly what it would be. That is not how we grow the economy…”
Clinton was obviously the better prepared candidate as she had details down and managed to articulate them fairly well and in a non-condescending manner, a criticism she has faced in the past.
An example, “Let’s stop for a second and remember where we were eight years ago. We had the worst financial crisis, the Great Recession, the worst since the 1930s. That was in large part because of tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy, failed to invest in the middle class, took their eyes off of Wall Street, and created a perfect storm.”
‘In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, “Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money. Well, it did collapse.’ Trump responded with a shocking, “That’s called business, by the way.”
The debate had the expected Trump shockers like the one above but for those who have been following his campaign in the past year, he was “largely disciplined and well behaved. The contrast between him and Clinton was not as great as Clinton would have hope to show” states David Milstead, columnist with The Globe And Mail newspaper.
Despite Clinton’s calm (smiling) demeanor, Trump drew equal because his agenda of highlighting his campaign keywords was successful. No matter the question by Lester Holt, Trump kept repeating, “Jobs…Mexico..China…Clinton is part of the problem.” Trump’s supporters were a noisy bunch and their cheers at each of these phrases was heard loud and clear on the TV screens.
The debate though proclaimed as a win for Hillary Clinton by polls like CNN/ORC, feels more like a tie because at the end of the 90 minutes, both candidates had one recall point each – Trump hammered in his “Clinton is part of the system that negotiated a bad trade deal like NAFTA which has led to a lot of manufacturing jobs shipped down south to Mexico” while Clinton hit Her Republican opponent with “Trump needs to explain why he has not released his taxes to the public and he is the first presidential candidate to not do so”. Clinton at the end also managed to highlight Donald Trump’s dismal record on gender rights as she recounted his referring to a Latino woman as “Miss Housekeeping” and “his penchant for hanging around beauty contestants.”
Both candidates made their points in a way that reassured their supporters that they were right in choosing their respective choices. This supporter base is supposed to be 42% for Clinton, 40% for Trump and the rest is undecided.
According to Professor Kenneth Bickers of University of Colorado this percentage of undecided voters or those supporting third-party candidates, is double that of what it usually is around this time of the presidential race. Hence, both Clinton with her smiling, reassuring manner and Trump with a more disciplined approach were hoping to work and convince the undecided 18% to choose sides.
Did they manage to do that? Not so much as polls moved just a couple of points in Clinton’s favour.
Two more presidential debates remain and Clinton has to her advantage her record of speaking for women’s rights as well as incorporating Bernie Sanders’ student debt issue. Trump though is not lagging far behind and the experts still continue to say “Anything can happen.”
The writer is on a ‘Youth and Politics in the U.S. Presidential Elections’ reporting tour organised by the United States Department of State.