Watch parties react to Biden's and Trump's first 2024 debate

Supporters of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump gathered at a pair of watch parties in Madison to witness the candidates in the first of two 2024 presidential debates.

By Murv Seymour | Here & Now

June 28, 2024 • South Central Region

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With the Marquette Law School poll released June 26 showing a 50-50 dead heat in the race for president in the critical battleground state of Wisconsin, the matchup on the debate stage for candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump took on extreme importance, and certainly left some disappointed. A pair of debate watch parties in Madison reveal prominent reactions.

“This shouldn’t be a debate,” said Republican former President Donald Trump.

“He rewarded the wealthy. He had the largest tax cut in American history,” said Democratic President Joe Biden.

What was playing on the big screen at the Barrymore Theater on Madison’s near east side isn’t the normal movie or show. On the night of June 27, all eyes were centered on the first presidential debate of the 2024 election between Biden and Trump.

Billed as the most important debate of a lifetime, this free watch party was hosted by The Devil’s Advocates Radio show and The Progressive magazine. Both groups say they look to educate voters before Election Day. At times, voter reaction to this clash of the candidates sounded more like debate watchers were watching a huge sporting event.

“There’s not a lot of mystery about these two candidates, so I think a lot of people come to this debate with preconceived notions,” said radio host Mike Crute. “I think it’s important, I think it’s all about Joe Biden proving he’s up for the job.

Whether Biden proved he’s up for the job is definitely part of post-debate conversations.

“I don’t know that I’m going to get anything out of it because I know how I’m voting. I don’t know, maybe a feel for what other people are thinking. Maybe I can get that out of it. Maybe some hope,” said watch party attendee Christine McDonough.

A few miles to the east, a lot more than bowling was going on at Bowl-A-Vard bowling alley, where the Republican Party of Dane County sponsored its own debate watch party.

“Did you fire anybody that allowed our country to be destroyed?” said Trump at the debate.

“I think this is one of the most important debates of all time,” said Rolf Lindgren, a Republican Party activist and organizer of its monthly Pints & Politics events. “It’s a president versus a former president — so, it’s sort of like the heavyweight champion against the former heavyweight champion. There’s huge issues with the border and with the economy and inflation, and people want action and they want answers.”

With the highest of all stakes on the debate table, watch party attendee Linda Mishler said the debate hasn’t changed a thing about who she plans to vote for in November.

“I knew President Trump would do an excellent job, and he really outshone Biden,” she said. “You know, I was really expecting to see exactly what I saw.”

All across the state in cities, suburbs and rural communities, Wisconsinites took part in public and private debate watch parties like these, with hopes of seeing something that helps propel their candidate from the debate stage towards the lane all the way back to the White House.

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