With just a handful of candidates on the debate stage, more than 200 Democratic and undecided voters met at Manhattan’s RPM Underground, a midtown karaoke place, Tuesday night for a caucus-style watch party where supporters of each candidate were split up into different rooms to cheer on their favorites.
Only six Democratic candidates were present for the last debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, down from a whopping 20 a few months ago.
The debate followed strife between Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders just days before. Warren accused Sanders of telling her in a private 2018 meeting that a woman cannot become president in 2020. Sanders flat out denied the claim in the debate.
David Abelson, the Iowan organizer of the caucus-style watch party, said he got the inspiration for holding a watch party of this magnitude from his home state.
“This place … has 18 different rooms and 42 TVs. We thought [since] there are so many candidates in the race, this is a unique opportunity to do something different,” said Abelson.
As each candidate showed up on the screen, the respective rooms filled with applause and screams. Boos came from Warren’s room when Sanders denied the accusation, while cheers came from Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s room when he spoke of his foreign policy.
Janos Marton, a Sanders supporter, defended the candidate, stating Sanders either did not make the remark or that it must have been a misunderstanding. “Women should be voted in all levels of government, from the lowest level of government to president, and in many cases are the stronger candidate,” said Marton.
Renata Miller supported Julian Castro, the only Hispanic candidate, until he dropped out. She now backs Warren, who she said did an amazing job in the debate despite the infighting between the two senators.
“I thought [Warren] did a really good job on the debate stage and not getting into the whole ‘he said, she said’ [argument]. I mean I believe her, but at the end of the day they have to address the issues and not get bogged down in what I think is a silly conflict,” said Miller.
Candidates also spent time focusing on foreign policy and how to tackle issues in the Middle East. Some want a total withdrawal of troops, while others believe it is necessary to stay in the region.
Buttigieg said it is possible “to remain engaged without having an endless commitment of ground troops.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar supported leave troops in neighboring Iraq because of the recent escalations between the United States and Iran.
“When it comes to Iraq right now, I would leave our troops there despite the mess that has been created by Donald Trump,” said Klobuchar.
Sanders attacked former Vice President Joe Biden’s previous stance on the Iraq war. Back in 2002, Biden was one of 77 senators who voted to give President Bush sweeping authority to act against Saddam Hussein.
“The war in Iraq turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of our country,” said Sanders. “I did everything I could to prevent that war. Joe saw it differently.”
Biden admitted his vote was a mistake. He said he would now only send troops into battle if “the overwhelming vital interests of the United States are at stake.”
Another hot topic in the debate was healthcare. The candidates remain divided on which method is best for the American people and whether more government intervention is required.
Buttigieg said that rather than spending billions of dollars on a new healthcare system, the government could vastly improve Obamacare.
“We’ve got to move past a Washington mentality that suggests the ‘bigness’ of plans only consist of how many trillions of dollars they put through the treasury,” said Buttigieg.
Warren argued against this position, saying the mayor wants incremental, not transformational, change.
“The average family in America last year paid $12,000 in some combination of deductibles and copays and uncovered expenses and fees. You can’t cover that with the kind of money that the mayor is talking about,” said Warren.
Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Bloomberg did not qualify for the debate. Yang and Gabbard held their own discussions in Iowa, while Bloomberg visited Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.
Meanwhile, President Trump held a rally in Milwaukee, where he joked about a former president being in hell and asked for domestic political foes to be locked up.
After the debate, few viewers saw an obvious Trump challenger. Instead, they saw CNN disregard Sanders’ denial of Warren’s accusation, afterwards catering to Warren. They saw “mom and dad” fighting, but did not see a definite solution to the problems the nation faces.
Warren, Sanders and Biden got the most viewing time, but some users on Twitter believed Yang was the winner despite not being present, since he brings creative solutions to solve problems such as automation, artificial intelligence and outsourcing of American jobs.